Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Spring Spirit 2014 and National Poetry Month

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a writing conference hosted by the North/Central California region of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in Citrus Heights, CA. Because it was so close to Sacramento, my husband and I decided to make a family weekend trip of it and drive up. While I went to the conference, he would take the kids around Old Sac, the California State Railroad Museum, and his old stomping grounds at Sac State. And maybe we would even stop by the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield on the way back home (which we did).

So many things happened during that weekend, that I can't even begin to relate it all here. However, I will tell you about four interesting things.

Two of them happened before I even got to the conference: at 7:40 am, we piled into our minivan, and found its battery was dead as a door nail, and I took my first ride alone in a taxicab (which was not as scary as I thought it was going to be).

Due to this unfortunate situation, I didn't get to go to the pre-conference session I originally wanted -- it was packed. However, I was able to slip in to one given by poet and author extraordinaire, Nikki Grimes. She spoke about "Multiculturalism: The Universality of Story" and given my last post, there couldn't have been a more fitting topic. While I might have been hesitant to write a children's story featuring Filipino characters, after listening to this talk, I was fully convinced and inspired. That was interesting thing number three.

Interesting thing number four happened at lunch. My friend Alejandra and I parked ourselves and our stuff at a back table that was pretty much empty. We stepped away for a few moments, and when we came back, who should be sitting at our table but some of the authors we had just listened to in our previous sessions, including the very sweet and knowledgeable Susan Goldman Rubin, Anne Marie O'Brien, and Nikki Grimes. I felt like I was in junior high, all tongue-tied, and star-struck. I was anything but articulate. Once I got over that, I was able to enjoy a nice chat with them -- all very kind and encouraging people. Please check out their websites and especially their books. They write wonderful stories for children, and they do it in very creative ways!

That brings me to the other topic of this post: April is National Poetry Month! I have to admit, I am not much of a poet. At least not anymore. When I was younger, I used to enjoy writing and reading poetry. Writing poetry is like painting pictures with words. It involves creativity and freedom of expression -- things, unfortunately, that often get stifled, diminished, and eventually lost with age. But all is not lost -- you can still rediscover your poetic self!

I just finished reading Word with Wings by Nikki Grimes.

It's a wonderful story, written entirely in verse, about a young girl whose mind is occupied by wonderful daydreams. It is the perfect story to inspire children (and adults) through poetry.

What better way to launch National Poetry Month in your class?

Go ahead...dream, write, and take flight!

Friday, April 4, 2014

In Search of Children's Books Featuring Filipino Characters

The title pretty much speaks for itself. Do you know of any?

As a Filipino-American child who was an avid reader, I never saw a book with a Filipino characters in it. This was in the 1970's. Keep in mind, I never specifically looked for books with Filipino characters. But as much as I read, I do think it's telling that I never encountered one. And yes, I would have remembered it if I did. We are very excited when one of our own is featured or mentioned in any type of media. Back then, there were so few that we were excited when we heard that a celebrity was even just part Filipino.

Having begun my teaching career in Oakland, CA, multiculturalism and ethnic diversity were hot topics among the teachers I met, as well as my classmates while I was in grad school. We were asked to make a list of children's books featuring ethnically diverse characters. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were more books with Asian characters than I remembered seeing as a child. Among them were:

Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say
How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina Friedman
Jackie Robinson and the Year of the Boar by Bette Lord
Hush! A Thai Lullaby by Minfong Ho
The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland

And this list goes on.

Yet, children's books with Filipino characters where not readily found. 

I do not consider myself to be well-versed in multicultural children's literature, nor am I someone who would get on a soapbox and push my ethnic diversity opinions on others. But I am an American-born Filipino, who happens to speak better Spanish than Tagalog. And when I became a mother, I knew I wanted them to love reading as much as I did. I also knew that I wanted them to be proud that they were part Filipino and part Okinawan-Japanese.

Thus began my search for books featuring Filipinos began. And it's still going.

So far, I've found the following:

Willie Wins by Almira Astudillo Gilles 
Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore 
Tall Story by Candy Gourlay
My First Book of Tagalog Words by Liana Romulo
This was my favorite book to share with my kids!

Finally, I don't necessarily think that multicultural children's books need to explain cultural differences -- though I think that would be cool. I do love the idea that a children's book tells a story that all children can enjoy, and have characters with whom all children can identify -- but they also just happen to be Filipino.

Do you guys have any books I can add to my list? Let me know!