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Rhythm & Hues recently had a booth at a job fair at Taichung’s National Chung Hsing University, where it was recruiting special effects engineers, 3D animation artists and other creative personnel. Starting salaries for new graduates at the Taiwan studio are roughly in the range of $250-per-week, according to the China Post.
Pacy and her family are off to Taiwan for the summer. Pacy and her sisters are NOT looking forward to it. When they get there, it's hard. Everything is new and overwhelming. They don't speak the language and can't read signs. At home, they were the only Asian family and could feel out of place. In Taiwan they look like everyone else, but still don't fit. Through it all, Pacy learns more about straddling two cultures and gains appreciation for what her parents must have gone through when they moved to the US.
I'm a big fan of all of Grace Lin's works and this is a great addition to her largely autobiographical Pacy series. The tone is light and often funny and the sprinkled in simple line drawings add a lot to the text.
But this book proves that Lin and I should be friends because she goes to Taiwan AND SHE EATS ALL THE DUMPLINGS. Pacy looooooooooooooooooooooooves dumplings and orders them at almost every meal. By doing this, she eats a lot of different kinds of dumplings. I got SO HUNGRY reading this book. Good thing Mala Tang has several dumpling options for me to choose from.
But really, I mean, last time I went to China, Dan and I had the following conversation:
Dan: What do you want to do while we're in Shanghai? Me: EAT ALL THE DUMPLINGS. Dan: Ha ha. Seriously though, what do you want to see while we're there? Me: Seriously. I want to see places that serve dumplings.
I ate so many dumplings on that trip. Here's a picture of me eating xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) in Shanghai. That steamer used to be full. I did NOT share with Dan. In the book, Lin's relatives tell her that if you can eat soup dumplings without spilling, you're a true Chinese. I'm not about to claim that I'm Chinese, but I don't spill my dumplings.
So, as Pacy is obviously a girl after my own heart, of course I love her. (Now I want more dumplings...)
Book Provided by... my local library
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One of my many favorite food scenes in Dumpling Days by Grace Lin (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012):
"Careful when you eat these," Auntie Jin said. "They're special."
I'd had dumplings lots of times. How special could these be? But as I took a bite, I almost stopped in amazement.
"There's soup in these dumplings!" I said.
All the adults at the table laughed.
"I told you they were special!" Auntie Jin said. "They are called xiaolongbao. They have soup inside of them. They're good, aren't they?"
I took another bite. The hot soup filled my mouth, and the mixture of soup and meat and dumpling skin seemed to melt into a warm, rich flavor. They were good. Very, very good. I began to realize why Uncle Flower said Taiwan had the best dumplings in the world.
They were so good that I didn't even notice that I had soup dribbling down my chin. I quickly wiped it away.
"They say if you can eat these dumplings without making a mess, you are a 'real Chinese' person," Uncle Flower said.
The inevitable has happened: CG provocateur David OReilly has partnered with Taiwan’s Next Media Animation, whose mocap news recaps are at least as truthful as anything you’ll see in the mainstream media. The resulting short, Children’s Medium Used for Dissemination of Truth, is exactly what you’d expect of a collaboration between these two non sequitur aficionados in that it’s totally unexpected.
By Daniel Byman and Charles King
Three years ago this month, Russia and Georgia fought a brief and brutal war over an obscure slice of mountainous land called South Ossetia that had declared its independence from Georgia. Flouting international law, Russia stepped in to defend South Ossetia and later formally recognized the secessionists as a legitimate [...]
Lin, Grace. 2011. Dumpling Days. New York: Little Brown.
(Advance Reader Copy supplied by publisher - artwork not final)
(a booktalk) In Dumpling Days, Pacy Lin, her parents and two sisters (one older, one younger) are going to Taiwan for Pacy's grandmother's 60th birthday - for 28 days! Twenty-eight days?! What is Pacy supposed to do for 28 days without her friends in a country where she may look like everyone else, but inside, she's definitely not. At least there will be dumplings!
Pacy Lin is Grace Lin's semi-autobiographical character from her previous books, The Year of the Dog and the Year of the Rat. In Dumpling Days, Grace Lin has made a departure from her earlier books. Breaking out of "The Year of the" formula, with its limited page numbers, Dumpling Days is a longer book (approximately 265 pages), that offers Lin a chance to explore many facets of Chinese art, food, and culture, as well as offer deeper glimpses into the lives of Pacy's sisters, Lissy and Ki-Ki, and even their parents,
Mom and Dad had told us about how they had moved to the United States, but I hadn't thought about their not understanding TV commercials, not being able to order food, being ignored because you didn't speak the language - all the things I found hard here in Taiwan. Maybe when Mom ad Dad were first in America, everything was just as strange and confusing to them as Taiwan was to me now. It was surprising to think about.
A beautifully concise thought channeled through the voice of a young girl, easily undertood and profoundly important. In addition to offering cultural perspective, through the family's travels and activities, the reader learns much about the Chinese/Taiwanese culture.
All my life, my parents told me "If anyone asks, you're Taiwanese. Not Chinese. It's different." As a child I would dutifully comply, even though I didn't completely understand the distinction. In high school, one of my friends would tell me that I was Chinese American, like her. And when I disagreed, we would argue about it, no doubt just spouting our parents' political beliefs.
Well, I now understand the difference (especially after having lived in Taiwan for over a year after college), and yes, there is a difference. And yes, some of it is politically-based. To a certain extent, it comes down to whether or not you believe that Taiwan is an independent country, not a renegade province belonging to China. I believe that Taiwan is (and should be recognized as such) its own nation. Taiwan is a democracy. It has its own political system, its own president, its own economy, industry, and foods and culture. It's a tropical island country. Are many aspects of the culture similar to Chinese culture? Of course, but there are also so many differences: the food (oyster pancakes! Smelly tofu! Bubble tea! Bah-zang!), the language (although Mandarin is now the official dialect in Taiwan, the Taiwanese dialect is very different), and especially the way the people there think (as you can expect, someone growing up in a democracy that encourages freedom of speech and though will be much different from one growing up in a Communist country with censorship. Also, Taiwan had been occupied in the past by both the Dutch and the Japanese, and there are influences from both in the Taiwanese culture today). Taiwan has been separate from the mainland for over 200 years. And all of this was especially apparent to me when I visited China two years ago and realized the extent of the differences.
Anyway, I don't want to go on and on. I simply wanted to share this marvelous video. To my delight and surprise (they hadn't told me they were doing this), my younger brother, parents, and aunt and uncle are all featured! Can you guess which ones they are?
Much of what's written in English about children's book cover design naturally focuses on Western images. But what about children's books produced on the far half of the globe? I've been wondering if the style was quite different. It seems that most of what we see from the Far East now is manga and anime, and except for a few books that have drifted across the Pacific now and again, we don't seem to see much of what kids over there are reading.
Allow me to introduce two twenty-somethings, Amie and Nikolai. Amie grew up in Jhunan, Taiwan; Nikolai in Illinois, USA. They now both live in Boston. I asked them to come up with five favorite books they remember from childhood, so that we may have a little fun comparing and contrasting the cover art and design. Below are their choices.
First, from Amie, we have this picture book. She tells me it's about Mr. Crocodile having a day off:
I like how his passengers are wearing clothes and carrying books; they're adorable. I like how his long body spans the entire cover. By comparison, here's Nikolai's first choice, one of his very first books. The classic story of Corduroy, the little bear no one would buy.
Also adorable. I had no idea what to expect with this experiment, whether the covers would have significant design differences or not. But the more I look at these books, I see more similarities than differences. Note the way both images above face to the right, as if inviting the child to open the book, in anticipation of the story (which is common in picture books, I know). Note the jaunty typefaces. I love the way the crocodile seems to be about to swim right off the page, ready for adventure. (He looks like Lyle, doesn't he? Gosh, those teeth!) On the other hand, Corduroy is standing on a soft, comfy cushion. He's enclosed by the red background--very safe and cozy.
Next we have this somewhat Babar-esque little pachyderm on the cover of a wordless picture book from Taiwan. Amie says this "is my favorite elephant! She really tries hard to make her body look funny, sometimes looks like the moon, sometimes looks like a tree."
I like the bright colors, and the way the sky frames the little elephant. But I kind of wish the frame around the artwork had been left off. If the artist had omitted it, it would have allowed the elephant room to swing right off the edge of the book, like the croc above. The puffy, outlined title typeface is cool.
Compare that cover to Nikolai's Dandelion by Don Freeman, the lion who wishes to upgrade his appearance for a fancy party. Another Don Freeman cover, with similarities to Corduroy.
Both have animals for main characters. The elephant morphs, and the lion is anthropomorphic. Both are books about changing oneself--okay, maybe that's a stretch.
I wonder if children's book design and the stories one grows up with can influence the way a person sees the world. From Amie, we have this story of a young girl searching for presents on her birthday. "Her mom leaves little traces everywhere in the house, like a treasure hunt," Amie explains.
I can't get enough of this cover. Love the playful typeface and the way the girl is partly outside the frame, as if she's sneaking past her parents (Amie, is that what appealed to you, hmm?). Contrast, color, pattern, all very appealing. It's interesting that we don't see anyone's face straight on; in fact, the mother's back is turned to us--because she's hiding something?
Nikolai listed a very silly book, one he asked for nearly every night when he was three: Roger Bradford's Benjamin Dilley's Thirsty Camel, a cumulative story about a flooded basement and the fantastical beast who drinks it up. It's a tale about a boy's runaway imagination. Did it affect the way Nikolai turned out? Probably not; he says he just liked the illustrations. Honestly, I do, too. There's something about the way the camel's hump and head slope down toward little Benjamin so that our eyes are drawn to him. Very nice.
Now, from Nikolai and the west we have the wonderful Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel.
Contrast Lobel's easy reader tales of friendship between two amphibians with this book about two friends and jealousy from Taiwan:
These covers say more about what's to come than first meets the eye. Frog and Toad are facing the same direction (into the book again), riding together on their little amphibian-sized tandem bike as if all is right with the world, whereas the two children' on the Taiwanese book face each other, facing off, with the gift--and some white space--in between them. Well done, in both instances. Surely, the jealousy book was produced later than Lobel's; the more modern nature of the cover suggests as much. This is the only book that I felt had a uniquely Asian style--and maybe this shows my ignorance more than anything. But the cloud pattern on the gift, and the way it appears to be made of cut paper suggests an Asian aesthetic, to me. Like origami. The white square behind the two children and the sharply contrasting thick, black border remind me of calligraphy. And the entire design seems, well, designed. Deliberate. Artsy. Yet despite the Asian feel, the hair color on the two children makes me think this may be an import from the west, perhaps Europe?
And finally, my favorites. Both of our guests listed the same book. How's that for a small world? Comments anyone? Corrections? Clarification? --CB
Even though all of our titles come from countries other than the U.S. it is a very special day when we can highlight our books that speak about or take place in a land that is somehow different than the ones we're used to seeing in a children's book.
Here are just a few of our books that take place in unique places in our world:
One More Story is an online library of the best of children's classic and contemporary literature. Through a simple point and click process, children can choose a book, see the illustrations and have the book read to them whenever they want.
They've just created a blog which is a great place to learn more, add suggested titles and discover different ways to use the site, whether you're a parent, teacher, or librarian.
Kane/Miller is pleased to have a growing list of titles available at One More Story:
Tibili Written by Marie Léonard Illustrated by Andée Prigent
From England This is the Tree Written by Miriam Moss Illustrated by Adrienne Kennaway
Peiling is dreading the Christmas break. She hates hearing all of the other kids talk about Christmas, when her family does not celebrate the holiday. She always wanted to celebrate Christmas, but was afraid that her stodgy dad would say "no". With a little pushing from her Uncle Samson, Peiling approaches her parents who to her surprise say "yes" to Christmas this year.
Peiling has the perfect Christmas in mind...one that she imagines would be happening over at Laura Hamilton's house. It has Christmas cookies, carols, a perfect tree and a turkey for dinner. When Peiling's mother invites Peiling's teacher Mrs. Rosenweig for dinner, Peiling is suddenly embarrassed by her family. The mahjong and karaoke are bad enough, but when she realizes that mother has added Chinese elements to all of the dishes, she is put over the edge. It's hard enough being the only Chinese girl in her class...why does it have to be so hard at home too?
Pauline Chen has written a quintessential culture clash story with Christmas as a catalyst. Readers get to see well-meaning Mrs. Rosenweis use Peiling as an example of multiculturalism, as well as the everyday under the radar racism that kids face. We get a real sense of Peiling's family and culture effortlessly, and the story is sweet and readers can easily relate to Peiling's sense of embarrassment, no matter what culture their families are from.
Last Saturday, September 15, hundred of thousands of people rallied around the world to support Taiwan's bid for UN membership. I participated in the peace rally in NYC across from the UN (although I wasn't able to stay for the march).
There were a lot of people there despite the early hour and threatening rain. Everyone was festive and friendly, excited. The speakers energized the crowd--it was hard to judge how many people were there, but I'd guess 500-1,000, some of them having traveled from far and wide, some caravaning together on buses, to be there. There was even a performance of John Lennon's Imagine. I wore my "Dai wan lang" (Taiwanese) T-shirt, waved green flags, and chanted "UN for Taiwan! UN for Taiwan!"I'm not an overly political person (although I of course do have certain strong beliefs), but I do think that Taiwan is rightfully an independent, sovereign country--it's a democracy, has it's own president and political system, and is so separate from China in almost every way. Unfortunately, the UN rejected the membership bid. I don't know when/if Taiwan will ever win their bid, but I know they will keep trying, and I applaud everyone's efforts.
You can read more about the rally and the politics behind it here and here.
Now, when reviewing a work of historical fiction, it's always nice to know something about the time period. If you're reviewing a novelization of someone's life, you should know something about that person besides what Wikipedia and Biography Resource Center (my favorite biography database) can give you.
This is an exhaustive look at a complicated woman. Catherine was Queen of France, and mother to 3 kings of France. She held most of the power during the religious civil wars, was a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth (Elizabeth's "Frog" was Catherine's youngest son) and history has placed the blame for the Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre squarely at Catherine's feet.
Frieda has tried to free Catherine of this blame-- she paints a picture of a surgical assassination gone horribly wrong but... the fact that she wasn't guilty of massacre, just ordering the political killings of a dozen men? I'm not entirely sure that makes her better.
Frieda writes a compelling story about a place and time period I know little about. She explains context extremely well and her story is well researched and well told-- for my research, I really only needed the first few chapters, but I was so intrigued by Frieda's portrait that I had to continue reading.
There are 3 inserts of color photographs and paintings that serve as great visual aids and I really appreciated the "Cast of Characters" at the beginning of the book--it's hard to keep all those Henri's straight, plus the ever-changing Duke of Guise...
If you like biography, France, powerful women, religious history, or Renaissance history, I recommend this book.
Another powerful woman who is often a controversial figure is Madame Chiang Kai Shek.
I think Li really wanted this to be a sympathetic view of Madame Chiang Kai- Shek, but after a certain point, the material just wouldn't let her. I learned a lot about Taiwan, as well as the craziness that was the first 50 years of the twentieth century in China. (1911 brought the overthrow the the Qing Dynasty and the new Republic, which never fully gained control of all of China-- much was ruled by warlords, then the Communists were making noises so there was that war, then the Japanese were invading, so there was that war, then back to the Communists...)
After reading this book, I finally understood why Communism succeeded in China and why many saw it as a much better alternative to Chiang's government. But oh, she played the American government and people like a fiddle to get support for a losing cause for years. The KMT (Guomingdang) only lasted as long as it did because of US support...
A revealing and fascinating look at the birth of Communist China, China/Taiwanese political tensions, and the woman who stood in the middle of it all.
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me, Jimmy Liao, and Locus Editor-in-Chief Levin Liao (no relation)
Well, I got back from my family reunion vacation to Taiwan last week, and although it was not as relaxing as I hoped it would be, I enjoyed my time there. One of the highlights of my trip, was on my last full day there where I had the opportunity to meet author/illustrator Jimmy Liao (Sound of Colors)for the first time (I wrote about the acquisition of this book here).
I had arranged the meeting with Levin Liao, the Editor-in-chief of Locus Publishing, Jimmy's main Taiwan publisher. I had met Levin when he and his colleagues were in the states a few years ago on business, and since I was going to be in Taipei for a few days at the end of our Taiwan tour, I jumped at the chance to meet with the both of them. My parents were eager to meet Jimmy as well, and so I arranged for them to come along, which was a good thing because they helped serve as the translators between my rusty Mandarin and Jimmy and Levin's halting English.
We were having coffee at Joyce Cafe, and when my parents and I walked in, I saw Jimmy already seated at a table--although I had never met him, I recognized him from his author photos. He was an adorable man, and when I walked towards him he jumped to his feet to greet us, all smiles. I felt awkward at first, and it was frustrating not to be able to communicate fluently and say everything I wanted to say, but it was still a lovely time. We talked about children's publishing in Taiwan, and I commented that when I went to a bookstore a few days before, I was surprised that there were so many American picture books there, in English, not translated. I saw very few picture books of what seemed to be original Taiwanese books. Jimmy and Levin confirmed that this was in fact the case, and that most of the children's books (picture books, at least) in Taiwan were supposed to teach children English. I guess this also explained why, when I went to the Jimmy Liao section in the store (yes, he has a whole section! About three shelves-full) I found so many copies of out edition shelved there!
I was surprised because our edition is different and very much abridged (80 pages to their 128 pages), and if you could choose between the original book in you native language and a shorter book in English, wouldn't you choose the original?
Jimmy also said that most Taiwanese kids liked more cartoony art, and as Japanese manga. He said even his own daughter (who is now 10) was not a fan of his art. As a side note, very few of Jimmy's books are actually children's books--most of them, including Sound of Colors, were created for the adult audience.
The state of children's books in Taiwan shouldn't have been surprising to me. When I was a senior in college, I wrote my senior honors thesis comparing English-language picture books with Chinese-language books, and one of the main thing I discovered is that most of the Chinese-language books seemed intent on teaching something. For example, there was a whole picture book about automatic/electric doors (elevators, stores, etc.) and why you should be careful around them!
I'm glad that they have our books available over there--including a few of Grace's books!
But at the same time, I'm sad that there aren't more that originate from Taiwan. As has been my experience growing up in the States without many Asian-American characters in the books I was reading, I would think that at least for a child growing up in an Asian country that would not be the case. At least they're seeing Asian role models on television and in movies, and of course in at least some books, but how strange to think that many of the Asian characters in the picture books they were reading were from the States.
On a somewhat related note, as I commented on my personal blog, many Taiwanese (and other Asians) consider it more beautiful to have whiter/paler skin. My aunt who lives in Taiwan, upon seeing me, commented that I was paler this time than I was when I lived there nine years ago, and therefore prettier (and, of course, why wasn't I married?!). I think many of you who have traveled to Asia can attest that there are many skin-whitener products over there. Ironic that while some cultures try to have whiter skin, so many people here try for darker skin by artificial tanners and tanning salons. I guess people will always try to be something they're not.