Friday, April 18, 2014

Retro Review: Bamboo Among the Oaks: Contemporary Writing by Hmong Americans

Title: Bamboo Among the Oaks: Contemporary Writing by Hmong Americans
Edited By: Mai Neng Moua
Publisher: Minnesota Historical Society Press
Pages: 205
Availability: On shelves now - published 2002
Review Copy: From public library
Age Level: Adult

Summary:  Of an estimated twelve million ethnic Hmong in the world, more than 200,000 live in the United States today, most of them refugees of the Vietnam War and the civil war in Laos. Their numbers make them one of the largest recent immigrant groups in our nation. Today, significant Hmong populations can be found in California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Michigan, and Colorado, and St. Paul boasts the largest concentration of Hmong residents of any city in the world.

In this groundbreaking anthology, first- and second-generation Hmong Americans -- the first to write creatively in English -- share their perspectives on being Hmong in America. In stories, poetry, essays, and drama, these writers address the common challenges of immigrants adapting to a new homeland: preserving ethnic identity and traditions, assimilating to and battling with the dominant culture, negotiating generational conflicts exacerbated by the clash of cultures, and developing new identities in multiracial America. Many pieces examine Hmong history and culture and the authors' experiences as Americans. Others comment on issues significant to the community: the role of women in a traditionally patriarchal culture, the effects of violence and abuse, the stories of Hmong military action in Laos during the Vietnam War. These writers don't pretend to provide a single story of the Hmong; instead, a multitude of voices emerge, some wrapped up in the past, others looking toward the future, where the notion of "Hmong American" continues to evolve.

In her introduction, editor Mai Neng Moua describes her bewilderment when she realized that anthologies of Asian American literature rarely contained even one selection bya Hmong American. In 1994, she launched a Hmong literary journal, Paj Ntaub Voice, and in the first issue asked her readers "Where are the Hmong American voices?" Eight years later, this collection -- containing selections from the journal as well as new submissions -- offers a chorus of voices from a vibrant and creative community of Hmong American writers from across the United States.

Review: Typically I am only reviewing children's and young adult materials so I want to make it clear that this is written for adults though I am sure that mature young adults may also be interested. I read this book years ago, but pulled it out again recently because I was looking for some Hmong poetry to share at our school. I remembered that there were poems in this collection and I thought that possibly I could at least use a few lines from one of the poems. I did find what I was looking for in the poem "Walking Manifesto #2" by Pacyinz Lyfoung. It is prefaced with this statement, "For the First People, who never appear in any Asian American history because we too forget that before any of us--white, black, yellow--came here to argue race issues and our rights, they were here first" (p.55). Even my younger students could understand and appreciate this poem which is ultimately about peace, justice and equality.

The many voices and variety of formats in the book combine to make a spectacular collage of Hmong experiences. As readers we are fortunate to have this text available to us. There are so many ways of life in America. Sometimes we don't see the diversity within a cultural group. This book provides us that opportunity. It also lets us know that there are uncountable ways to be Hmong American beyond these examples and that over time there are still changes. This book also reminds us that we each have a story to tell no matter our heritage. We yearn to tell our stories  and publication of this book helps magnify the voices so that they can be heard by many more people. I so appreciated that the authors shared themselves with us.

This is a fantastic work and I would highly recommend it to anyone. 

If you would like to hear some of the poems and learn more about the book, please watch the book discussion below.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Poetry Favorites

In honor of Poetry Month here are a few of my favorite poetry books. 

What are some of your favorites?

Monday, April 14, 2014

It's Monday! What are you reading?

It's Monday! What are you reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. Jen Vincent over at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye from Unleashing Readers decided to put a children's and YA spin on it and they invite anyone with an interest to join in. You can participate by creating your post then visit one of their sites to add your site. Finally, visit at least three participant blogs and comment to spread the love.

If you want to know more about what I am reading, visit me at my Goodreads shelfImages via Goodreads unless otherwise noted.

The Past Week:
Geisel Books

If you haven't heard yet, Colby Sharp and Mr. Schu are at it again with their Saturday videos for the Geisel Challenge. It's always fun to hear their responses to the books especially when they can do a video together. I really love There is a Bird on Your Head which was the winner for 2008. Elephant & Piggie are the best. Their facial expressions make me belly laugh. It was cool to see two non-fiction texts in the group too. Bumblebee Bat is in a question and answer format and would be a perfect non-fiction book to share with young students and I agree with Colby that it would make an excellent mentor text for nonfiction writing. Vulture View has a great eeew quotient. We are informed that they enjoy food that reeks. First the Egg is a miracle of design and is also a circular story. Jazz Baby is a ton of fun with all kinds of onomatopoeia going on and inspiration for making noise and moving. I am having a blast with this challenge.

Picture Books

I was out of town for an EdCamp on Saturday and I read a lot of these picture books when I went to visit the library in Eau Claire. I like to visit a bookstore or library when I visit someplace. It was a great day since they were having a book sale there, but they also had some fun books on display. I love sunflowers so to be like the SUN made me smile. The Favorite Daughter got tears out of me. His daughter Yuriko is being teased at school and her name is being mispronounced. She is feeling a bit caught between cultures. The story is taken from Allen Say's past and is made more special because it includes real photographs of his daughter. I think it is an excellent book to share on its own, but especially to demonstrate the mixed-race experience as one that can be difficult, but also has rewards. Mama Built a Little Nest was a fantastic non-fiction text about the various kinds of nests that birds create. The text has two parts. One section is a brief rhyme and then the other part is a short bit of information about each bird. Gobble You Up is an adaptation of a trickster tale from Rajasthan in India. It would pair well with There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly or other trickster stories and the art is gorgeous.


I found How I Discovered Poetry to be fascinating. I usually enjoy memoirs and to have it in the form of sonnets made it doubly impressive. I reviewed it over at Rich in Color on Friday. Poems to Learn By Heart is another nice anthology. I can't help but wish that she included a few more accessible poems and didn't rely quite so much on the classics. I really appreciated the new one done by young people "Voices Rising." The book seems to be published for young people, but it is a little on the high end for elementary students. I adored John Muth's artwork, but again it really looks like it is for little kids, but the poems inside are not at least not that they would likely read on their own. It could be great when used by parents or teachers with their children though one or two poems at a time.

Middle Grade

I read this because Mitali Perkins was coming to the area to speak. I shared her visit and a picture here. Rickshaw Girl is a great example of a young girl pushing up against prescribed gender roles in her community with additional themes of family and friendship. I loved it and am so happy that I ordered it for the library. 

Young Adult & a Crossover

The Port Chicago 50 had my jaw dropping. It reminded me of the feeling I had as I read Courage Has No Color.  It's amazing how many indignities that people have faced as a result of racism. What is more mind-blowing is the response that many people in power have when they are called to account. They don't even deny the injustice, but refuse to do anything about it because it would be too difficult to change the situation or it's always been this way and they aren't going to rock the boat. I think that students would be moved by this text for sure.  Luka and the Fire of Life was a romp through the world of story in the guise of a video game. Rushdie wove in a wide variety of mythologies from all over the world. It's the first time I made it through one of his books. Perhaps that is because I listened to it or more likely because it was written for a younger crowd. House of Purple Cedar was about a Choctaw family and many of the more interesting episodes of their lives generally from the granddaughter's perspective. I wrote this on Goodreads, "Tim Tingle is a fantastic storyteller and brought me into the lives of Rose and her family. There were some harsh situations, but there is also a lot of love and some humor too. The primary issues that come to light are racism and domestic violence. The overarching theme though is one of family and love of many kinds."

The Coming Week:
I just started Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac and I am part-way through Death Spiral. I plan to start Grasshopper Jungle after those. I have a lot of bookstacks around the house to dig into and I should have a little extra time since we have a five day weekend for the holiday. I am hoping that means that I will have many, many books to share next week. Happy reading!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Stacks

Gigi McAllister has a post today about the various bookstacks in her home and she asked us about ours. I have too many to simply reply in her comments so figured I would quickly pop a few pictures up here and post a link.

These are beside my bed. I just started Killer of Enemies today & Grasshopper Jungle is up next.

These are the amazing stacks of books that I got yesterday when I visited a public library while I was in another town. They had a $5 bag sale and I fit 31 books in there. A few of them are in my school bag, but these are for me at home. :)

These two are books that I got from a publisher and an author. 

I want to read this, but I got all teary just reading the back cover.
 I bought it, but haven't had the guts to dive in yet.

I read these recently for two different book clubs.

This is my library stack. It's a good thing we can renew books online.

This is my bag of things going back to the library tomorrow.

I have so many piles and I am looking forward to the long weekend coming up so I can dig in to some of these lovelies.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres has a link-up on Saturdays where people link to posts that are celebrations about their week. I love this reminder to celebrate every day. Here are some of my celebrations from the week.

1. Mitali Perkins came to La Crosse. I got to meet her in person and get my copy of Bamboo People signed. She spoke eloquently about the need for multicultural literature and how to evaluate the literature that we find. It was a great afternoon. Here's an article about her visit.

2. I got to try out a new restaurant in town with a good friend. The food was okay, but several quirky things happened that we will probably never forget. We had many laughs together.

3. My daughter and I spent more time in the car as she prepares for her driving test. She has learned so much in the past few months. She's almost ready to go solo.

4. A student stopped by my office and he clearly noticed all the wires in the corner behind me. He asked, "Do you work in here?" I let him know that I did. Then he said, "This room must be full of power." Of course I flexed my right arm and nodded. He looked at me like I was nuts and started spluttering about the computer wires and stuff. It was rather hilarious and lightened up my afternoon.

5. I got some books for home this week and finished off my Barnes & Noble gift card from Christmas. I love new books.

6. I am heading out to an EdCamp this morning and look forward to a great day of learning and sharing.

I wish you a wonderful week!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Poetry Friday

I am not actually posting a poem, but would like to point you to a few poetry posts that I wrote for Rich in Color.

Here is a list of diverse young adult books that are full of poetry or are poetry related.

Here is a list of diverse young adult novels in verse.

Here is a review of Marilyn Nelson's book How I Discovered Poetry.

Have a wonderful Friday full of poetry!

Monday, April 7, 2014

It's Monday! What are you reading?

It's Monday! What are you reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. Jen Vincent over at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye from Unleashing Readers decided to put a children's and YA spin on it and they invite anyone with an interest to join in. You can participate by creating your post then visit one of their sites to add your site. Finally, visit at least three participant blogs and comment to spread the love.

If you want to know more about what I am reading, visit me at my Goodreads shelfImages via Goodreads unless otherwise noted.

The Past Week:
Geisel Books

Be sure to visit the blogs of Colby Sharp and Mr. Schu to see their video reviews for the Geisel Challenge. I really enjoyed seeing the writing that was happening in Zelda and Ivy. Mercy was so fun and I truly had hot buttered toast for dinner Friday night in honor of the book. It was yummy. I don't know if I have ever eaten a half dozen pieces of toast for a meal before, but it was great. I am sure Mercy would approve, but would likely eat a few more pieces than that. My two favorites were Move Over Rover and Not a Box. I wrote quite a bit about Rover here. They are both exercises for the mind in different ways. They are high on the imagination and creativity scale. Last week I forgot to mention one other book that I read - The Pigeon Needs a Bath! I am including it here since Pigeon has potential for a future Geisel award as Willems has snagged a few of those. 


It is poetry month so I am hoping to read at least one poetry book a week. Ahsley Bryan's ABC book is fabulous. I reviewed it over at Goodreads. There were several poems that really stood out - of course one was from Langston Hughes. 

Middle Grade/Young Adult

I would peg these both as middle grade, but I noticed that both were also tagged young adult by quite a few people on Goodreads. Milagros is out-of-print, but recently Meg Medina posted that it is being resurrected as an e-book. I flew through the book and got quite attached to Milagros. She sees people as they truly are and she is herself truly not matter what happens around her The Rock and the River was hard to hear (I read this one with my ears). I sat in my car crying on several occasions. Sam is a boy trying to become a man. His father is a leader in the civil rights movement and in this book Sam begins to see beneath the surface of that fight. Like One Crazy Summer, this book shows us a bit about The Black Panthers. The story, along with the afterward, provides a lot of background about the group and shows that they weren't just about violence which is the stereotype that many people have about the Panthers.


I adored Americanah. I will have to find time to read more of Adichie's novels. She has a fabulous sense of humor and writes beautifully. After I finished I went back and watched the video interview that she did recently about the book. Adichie is an amazing woman.


I reviewed Electa Quinney and Soccer Star this week.

The Coming Week:
I am still reading House of Purple Cedar, Death Spiral and Lucca and the Fire of Life. I am highly likely to read something by Mitali Perkins too since she will be in town and presenting at the local university. Yay! I think Grasshopper Jungle and Port Chicago 50 may get a shot too. Not sure though. It's always a bit of a surprise. I will read the 2008 Geisel award winners also. Those are quick. Have a great week of reading!