Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

By Maureen Tai, 6 July 2018

img_5678.jpg“There is always something to miss, no matter where you are.” – Sarah

Anna and Caleb live in a lonesome house in the prairies back in the days before electricity and piped water and telephones. They pine for their Mama, who died a day after Caleb was born, and their Papa silently longs for a wife. So Anna and Caleb’s father, Mr. Jacob Witting, decides to put an advertisement in the newspapers for such a companion. And Ms. Sarah Elisabeth Wheaton responds.

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A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

By Maureen Tai, 2 July 2018

“To the pond and back – to the pond and back – nearly a full day of walking altogether. This was Nya’s daily routine seven months of the year. Daily. Every single day.”

img_4151In A Long Walk to Water, not one, but two Sudanese children fearfully and desperately endure the worse conditions conspired by humans and nature.  Nya lives where water is scarce and seasonal, and access to this life-giving elixir is dictated by the vagaries of an ancient tribal war.  Twenty years earlier when Salva was Nya’s age, he fights for survival in his war-racked country.  Sudanese of one faith are aggressors, using violence to oppress, extinguish even, the lives of the non-believers and the less powerful.

Based on true events, these are stories that attest to the strength and resilience of the human spirit. These are stories about our common humanity.   Continue reading

Where The Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

By Maureen Tai, 26 June 2018

“It was planting season, which was especially gruelling. The mud stuck to their feet like glue and each seedling had to be painstaking planted by hand.  When the hot sun burned overhead, Minli’s knees shook from weariness.” 

IMG_5384Minli lives a hand-to-mouth existence in a dusty brown village, nestled in the shadows of the aptly named Fruitless Mountain. The little girl is barely nourished by the grains of rice that her parents coax from the poor land.  However, her spirit is sustained by the stories that her father regales her with each evening.  These stories have been handed down like precious family heirlooms from so many generations before that they sparkle with magic and the fantastical, and surely, must be ancient figments of an overactive imagination.

Or perhaps not.

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The King of the Copper Mountains by Paul Biegel

By Maureen Tai, 8 June 2018

 “King Mansolain had a beard that spread about his feet like a rug, and on it slept a hare, the only creature that still cared for him now that King Mansolain was almost forgotten.”

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My beloved copy of The King of the Copper Mountains bears teeth marks made by my first ever pet dog.  Patches was a Shih-Tzu with one blue and one brown eye. She had the unsavoury habit of tracking down cockroaches and stifling the blighters by rolling over them.  If she could have talked (and as a child, I fervently wished that she could have), I suspect she’d have had many engaging stories to tell.  Like the animals in Paul Biegel’s classic tale who come to the copper castle to keep King Mansolain alive.

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Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

By Maureen Tai, 18 May 2018

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“Like God in the Bible, they looked at what they had made and found it very good.”

The setting is a small rural community outside Washington in the 1960s. On the outside, Jesse Aarons is a hen-pecked, cow-milking, God-fearing, quietly anxious but otherwise normal fifth grader. On the inside, Jess is much more than that. He is an artist, a creator of pictures, with fragile sensitivities and complicated emotions. It takes an extraordinary friendship in the magical kingdom of Terabithia, and a tragic loss, for Jess to discover, to become, and to be accepted for the person he truly is.  Continue reading

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary

By Maureen Tai, 7 May 2018

“Ralph was eager, excited, curious, and impatient all at once. The emotion was so strong it made him forget his empty stomach. It was caused by those little cars, especially that motorcycle and the pb-pb-b-b-b sound the boy made. That sound seemed to satisfy something within Ralph, as if he had been waiting all his life to hear it.”

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I was likely 11 or 12 when I first read The Mouse and the Motorcycle.  A bit late to the ballgame.  I still have my original Yearling copy, with the mouse mounted on the vehicle, whiskers back and tail tucked under and around his arm. The pages are yellowed and spotted with age and threaten, with each turn, to detach from the spine. I’m surprised none did back then, I read and re-read this book so often.

I adored Ralph – the mouse – and still do.

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Eric by Shaun Tan

By Maureen Tai, 4 May 2018

“Some years ago we had a foreign exchange student come to live with us. We found it very difficult to pronounce his name correctly, but he didn’t mind. He told us to just call him ‘Eric.'”

IMG_2155I have a soft spot for exchange students. I was one myself over two decades ago.  I still acutely remember the feelings of anxiety, excitement, fear, homesickness and nervousness, all mixed up in a gigantic ball in my gut as I landed in Narita Airport, Tokyo, unable to speak or read a word of Japanese.  It was 1989, and a few days later, Emperor Hirohito would pass away, marking the end of the Showa era.

I have a soft spot for Shaun Tan as well, but that is because he is an absolute genius.  Continue reading