Monday, January 7, 2008

Book Review: Carolyn Marsden Books

I started with "Silk Umbrellas" and then read "When Heaven Fell", "The Jade Dragon" and finally, "The Gold-Threaded Dress". "Silk Umbrellas" captured my attention because of its subject, a young Thai girl, Noi, who likes to paint and hopes to avoid her sister's fate of working in a radio factory.
Written in vivid prose with a sprinkling of Thai words throughout, I felt Marsden captured the exoticness of the Thai people and their culture in the modern world. For example, the wonderful descriptions of the harvest festival Loy Krathong, giving food to the monks in their orange robes, sleeping with mosquito nets and other features of rural Thai life paint a vivid picture of Thai culture.
Noi and her sister Ting watch Kun Ya (their Grandmother) as she paints silk umbrellas which are to be sold at the market to supplement the family income. But, when Kun Ya can no longer paint, Ting, the eldest sister must go to work in a radio factory. When Noi visits the factory one day, she comes to the realization that this is where she too is destined. The beauty of her world is shattered, "Now that she'd visited the factory, the whole world seemed broken into pieces...". As time passes Noi feels that the factory work goes against what it means to be Thai. "The sight of the radios made Noi slow down. They seemed out of place in the market. The other goods - Kun Ya's umbrellas, the wooden carvings, the embroidered cloths - were all made by people. The radios looked as if they were made by machines."
She becomes determined to avoid this fate but doesn't know how she will accomplish this. Through her Grandmother's patient instruction, she learns how to really look at the world around her and then to paint these images onto silk umbrellas. The way Marsden describes Grandmother's teaching of Noi is completely delightful. In the end, Noi's talent brings peace and satisfaction to her. And, a path different from Ting's.
This book is a delightful, short read for the 8 to 12 set who will learn a little about a culture very different from North America.
"When Heaven Fell" is a story about the clash of culture between a half- American half-Vietnamese young woman, Sharon Hughes, who returns to her native home to visit her mother who gave her up for adoption at the end of the Vietnam War. But to Sharon's half-sister, Binh and her family, America is heaven, where people drive fast cars, have beautiful clothes, maids and very white teeth. When Sharon or Di Hai as she is known to her Vietnamese family arrives, Binh and the rest of her family are confused by what they learn about her. Di Hai is not rich, has no children, is not married, teaches a "useless" subject and is very tall! In the end, this sensitive story tells how both cultures are able to see something positive in the other.
"The Jade Dragon" deals with some of the issues young Americans of oriental heritage may have in being true to their values of their family heritage. Ginny is a Chinese girl with Chinese parents who struggle to pass on their language and culture to their daughter. But,Ginny meets Stephanie who was born in China, but adopted by American parents who are doing their utmost to help her reclaim her oriental heritage. Stephanie however, hates everything Chinese. Marsden's story centers on how Ginny's parents teach her that she must remain true to herself, thus allowing Ginny to help Stephanie see the value of her heritage. Suitable for ages 8 and up.

Book Details:
Silk Umbrellas
by Carolyn Marsden
2004 Candlewick Press

The Jade Dragon
by Carolyn Marsden
2006 Candlewick Press

When Heaven Fell
by Carolyn Marsden
2007 Candlewick Press

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

You're The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe!

by C.S. Lewis

You were just looking for some decent clothes when everything changed quite dramatically. For the better or for the worse, it is still hard to tell. Now it seems like winter will never end and you feel cursed. Soon there will be an epic struggle between two forces in your life and you are very concerned about a betrayal that could turn the balance. If this makes it sound like you're re-enacting Christian theological events, that may or may not be coincidence. When in doubt, put your trust in zoo animals.

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