Category Archives: Cultural

Tall Story

By Candy Gourlay

Published by David Fickling Books

Copyright © 2010


Not your typical tall tale, but “Tall Story” delivers on the tall in a giant way. Michael Jordan eat your heart out.

Bernardo and Andi are brother and sister, but they haven’t seen each other in 10 years. The reason for this is that Bernardo lives with his Aunt and Uncle in the Philippines, and Andi lives with her mom and dad (Bernardo’s step dad) in London. Bernardo has been waiting for the day that the British government will tell him that it is okay to come and live with his mom in London, while Andi grows up on the other side of the world hoping this long lost brother will come home soon and will like basketball as much as she does.


As Bernardo gets older his wish to go to London gets much more difficult. A strange chain of events has cast him in the role of the local savior, and he worries that if he leaves it will bring doom to his friends and family in the town of San Andres. The sheer weight of this is often too much for Bernardo. Only when he finally gets to London will this weight be lifted for good.


Written from the viewpoint of both Bernardo and Andi, Candy Gourlay has written a story with so many levels that I almost don’t know how to describe this book. While reading it I sometimes lost focus on what the story was about or what the author was really trying to say. Is it about family relationships, miracles, legends, basketball, illness, being different, or etc. There is just so much going on I couldn’t really get a clear message from the story.


That being said the story did hold my attention and was generally enjoyable. I think the thing that I like most about “Tall Story” is that while it is full of sadness Bernardo seems to have such a positive attitude, at least when he isn’t blaming himself for the way things turn out.  There are the death of a mate, a child being left behind, the struggle to be reunited, bullies, sickness, and earthquakes all in one story. There is so much to be depressed about and yet Bernardo comes off as relatively happy, even if conflicted. This book is set in the Philippines and the United Kingdom, and the main characters are big on basketball. This book is definitely worth a read for kids 10 and up who are interested in basketball or foreign countries.


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Filed under Communities, Cultural, Families, Junior Fiction, Multicultural, Myths & Legends, Sports

The Star Maker

Laurence Yep

Published by Harper Books

Copyright © 2011

Artie is the youngest in his family and one of his older cousins gets great pleasure in picking on him. During one such occasion Artie lets his pride, and his mouth, get the best of him and he promises to get everyone firecrackers for Chinese New Year. The only problem is that he doesn’t have any money, and when he gets money he usually spends it too quickly. Fortunately for him his Uncle Chester steps in and promises to help him. Uncle Chester is a nice guy, everyone around town likes Chester, but Chester isn’t very good with money either. Before New Year Chester falls on tough times with some bad bets and it doesn’t look like he is going to be able to help Artie. Artie is more worried about his uncle than he is about his fireworks.

As usual, Yep’s story takes us inside the Chinese American life informing us on Chinese Culture, lore, and history while telling an enjoyable story.  While I don’t think this is his best effort (I was a big fan of Dragon Road) this is a nice multicultural story for children ages 8 and up that focuses not just on culture, but on such topics as not gambling, not letting your mouth get you in trouble, learning not to pick on others, along with other topics.

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Filed under Communities, Cultural, Families, Historical, Junior Fiction, Love/Romance, Multicultural

Odd and the Frost Giants

Odd and the Frost Giants

By Neil Gaiman

Illustrations by Brett Helquist

Published by Harper

Copyright © 2009

Odd was a young man of twelve who had a peculiar way of making people angry – he smiled. It wasn’t the smile that angered people, it was that his was a knowing smile, in that he knew but he usually didn’t tell anyone what he knew. In a small Norse village where everyone knew everything about everyone else, especially since there wasn’t much else to do in the dead of winter, Odd’s smile and quietness didn’t always sit well. Given this, and Odd’s miserable circumstances, he decides to leave the village for his father’s cabin in the woods. On his first day there he meets a fox, an eagle, and a bear. Oh wait… I mean a talking fox, a talking eagle, and a talking bear, and from this point forward his life will never be the same.

Neil Gaiman has a written an imaginative novel inspired by Norse Mythology. Odd, who lives in a small village in Ancient Norway, has fallen on tough times and he feels it is time to leave the village and his mother whom he loves. He will take a journey that bridges his home in Norway and the realm of the God’s, Asgard. I really enjoyed this book not just for the incorporation of myth and legend, but because the protagonist has a certain thoughtfulness about him. Odd lives in world where men are MEN; they drink and fight and they don’t have much use for thinking or feeling. Odd, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be blessed with the size and strength of most Norsemen, in fact he is basically crippled, and yet he is able to save large animals and defeat giant foes without the use of force. Odd reminds me a little bit of Hiccup in the movie “How to Train Your Dragon.” (Sorry I haven’t read that book series yet. So many books so little time.)  If you liked the story in that movie then you should enjoy this book as I did. I must say, I would love to see this book as a movie, but I would settle for Neil Gaiman writing a sequel to this book.  Before I finish, kudos to Brett Helquist for some great black and white illustrations that helped us to visualize many of the characters. I don’t really analyze illustrations all that much, but I know what I like and Brett’s work is first class. Great addition to a great story. Recommended for children ages 9 to adult.

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Filed under Adventure, Coming of Age, Communities, Cultural, Fantasy, Junior Fiction, Loss/Death, Multicultural, Myths & Legends

The White Elephant

The White Elephant

By Sid Fleischman

Published by GreenWillow Books

Copyright © 2006

Run-Run is a mahout, an elephant trainer, who lives in Siam (Thailand). He works a grand old elephant that he loves named Walking Mountain. One day he and his elephant make the prince very mad. Instead of being beaten or killed the prince decides to punish him with a gift. The Prince gives Run-Run a young white elephant. How could this be punishment? Run-Run soon realizes just how much of a curse a white elephant can be. Try as he may though, he just can’t seem to rid himself of this burden. Very soon though Run-Run will be glad he didn’t.

Fleischman has woven an enjoyable, and at times moving, tale of a boy and his elephants. He takes us half way around the world and introduces us to a rich culture much different from our own using simple yet descriptive language. Additionally, the occasional grayscale drawings add a little dimension and boundaries to the story.

I personally enjoyed this story very much. The only complaint I have is that the ending is too abrupt and doesn’t give enough closure. Most good books don’t however, mainly because you never want a good book to end.

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Filed under Cultural, Junior Fiction, Multicultural, Nature/Animals

Chasing Vermeer (must read)

Chasing Vermeer

By Blue Balliett

Illus. by Brett Helquist

Published by Scholastic Press

Copyright ©2004

“Chasing Vermeer” is the story of Calder and Petra, two 6th graders in the same classroom, who live on the same street only houses apart, and who have never really spoken to each other outside of school. For some reason though they both get caught up in a mystery for the ages that has entangled nearly everyone they know.

A very famous painting by Johannes Vermeer has been stolen as it was in route to Chicago from Washington D.C. Three people in the Chicago area have been notified of this heist, and eventually the world is made aware of it. The purpose the thief says is to bring the truth to light. You see there are some paintings credited to Vermeer which may not have in fact been painted by him. When a old book of unexplained occurrences bring Calder and Petra together, strange coincidences seem to thrust them into the thick of the search for answers. With their deductive skills, the help of an eccentric old woman, their intuition, and a bit of good fortune they are hot on the trail of the missing painting. But, will they find it in time?

“Chasing Vermeer” is a riddle, wrapped up in a mystery, inside of an enigma. This book was totally enthralling and enjoyable. It featured smart, young, multicultural characters that are resolute in their determination to solve the mystery and find the truth. Balliett adds levels of intrigue to this big with a riddle that can be solved by hidden clues in the illustrations of Helquist, as well as coded letters written between Calder and his friend Tommy who moved to New York. This book will keep you occupied for hours. I love absolutely loved Calder’s use of pentominoes and I had to learn more about them. If you go to the books website you can actually play a pentominoe game, which is harder than it looks.

Great book from start to finish and beyond! I can’t wait till I have time to read some of his other books.


Filed under Adventure, Communities, Cultural, Elementary/Middle School, Friendship, Junior Fiction, Mystery, Uncategorized

The Dream Stealer

The Dream Stealer

By Sid Fleischman

Illustrated by Peter Sís

Published by Green willow Books

Copyright © 2009

Susana’s best friend, Consuelo Louisa has moved away, and they did not part on the best terms. Susana’s is upset and blames her for moving away, but she really wishes to see her again.

Susana does see her again. She and Consuelo Louisa are playing tag together, riding a merry-go-round, and even riding horses together. Of course it is all in her dreams, but her dream is so wonderful, that is until her dream was snatched by the Dream Stealer. The Dream Stealer is only supposed to steal nightmares but he has taken to stealing good dreams instead. Susana wants her dream back though, and she will have to catch the dream stealer to do it. And we all know that the best way to catch a dream stealer is with green chili peppers.

In the “Dream Stealer” Sid Fleischman delivers a wonderful fairy tale about not giving up on friendship.  He also showcases that courage is not reliant upon size and strength. Sometimes it is easy to lose our courage and someone needs to remind us how vital it is, and Fleischman does that without the need of being overtly scary or violent – which are always a plus. This is a great book for children ages 8-12 to read themselves, but I think an even better book to read as a bedtime story to children of any age.

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Filed under Cultural, Families, Fantasy, Friendship, Junior Fiction