Flash Review: Tofu Quilt by Ching Yeung Russell

By Maureen Tai, 31 December 2021

It seems fitting that the last book review for the year is Tofu Quilt (ages 8+), a thoughtfully written and heartfelt autobiographical verse novel about a young girl growing up in 1960’s Hong Kong. Yeung Yeung dreams of becoming a writer, despite the discouraging societal norms of the time and the disapproval of her wider family. Bolstered by the unwavering support of her headstrong mother, Yeung Yeung perseveres with her education and with her writing, her ambition also fuelled by her love for “dan lai“, a mouthwatering, steamed milk-egg-dessert still enjoyed by many in Hong Kong today. Yeung Yeung’s empowering story is one of hope and resilience, and refreshingly, is about a Chinese girl finding her own way in her Asian home rather than discovering herself by escaping from it. Tofu Quilt is an authentic, gorgeously written story that will resonate deeply, in particular with young readers of Chinese descent.

Flash Review: The Wild Book by Margarita Engle

By Maureen, 29 November 2021

The Wild Book (ages 8+) is Cuban American poet, Margarita Engle’s, fictional verse novel inspired by her grandmother’s life in Trinidad, Cuba. Set in the early 1900s, Fefa is an eleven-year-old guajira (country girl). She’s the only child in her large family who has word-blindness, the term used then for what we know today as dyslexia. Her mother, who could have been a poetess if her circumstances had been different, gives Fefa a book of blank pages, and encourages the girl to be patient and to persevere with her reading and writing. Engle’s evocative verse pulls us hypnotically into Fefa’s colourful, lush life of too many siblings, lurking dangers and hidden fears, until we too are dreaming of riddles and towers, caimans and esperanzas (crickets), and lines made of beautiful, haunting words.

Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba & translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa

By Ben & Maureen, 7 November 2021

When the children were younger, they’d play a game using Google Translate to translate a piece of text from say, English to Chinese, and then translate the resulting Chinese text back into English again. The ultimate translation was usually so different from the original version that it would illicit hoots of laughter and we’d shake our heads at the limitations of Google Translate. I’m reminded of these limitations whenever I read a translated work of literature where I have working knowledge of the original language in which it was written, like Sachiko Kashiwaba’s Temple Alley Summer, a middle-grade, fantasy-mystery novel that I recently shared with my non-Japanese speaking son. Even though I have never set eyes on the original, as we read the English version, I could imagine hearing the words of the original work, like lilting musical notes in the background. The feel, the “imi” (meaning) of the work, was distinctly Japanese, and I attribute this accomplishment to the masterful translation by Avery Fischer Udagawa, who is no stranger to Kashiwaba’s writings. Thanks to her, my 11-year-old is also no longer a stranger to Kashiwaba’s imaginative stories either.

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Skellig by David Almond

By Ben and Maureen, 3 October 2021

As the summer winds down, Ben and I read a thought-provoking, middle-grade novel that neither of us have read before. Skellig, by the prolific British author, David Almond, has been on my To Be Read list for some time now. I ask Ben – now a newly-minted 11-year-old – what he thinks of it.

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