Go With The Flow by Lily Williams & Karen Schneemann

By Maureen Tai, 10 March 2020

“Talking about periods is the first step to taking that period power back.” – Abby

IMG_6353 I was 10. I remember cycling to our neighbourhood kedai runcit (convenience store) in Ipoh, the sleepy town in Malaysia where I grew up. I had to pick up some freshly squeezed coconut milk, a loaf of Sunshine bread and a box of Kotex sanitary pads. The Ah Soh at the store handed me the items, but insisted on wrapping up the box of pads with newspaper before I could leave. I didn’t want to miss the start of Gilligan’s Island so I said I didn’t care if it was wrapped or not. “Shameful mah!” she whispered, pushing the parcel into my hands as if it were contraband. For many years afterwards, her words echoed in my ears every time I went to buy pads, by then for my own use, and my cheeks would burn. Continue reading

Can I Touch Your Hair? by Irene Latham & Charles Waters & illustrated by Sean Qualls & Seline Alko

By Maureen Tai, 6 March 2020

IMG_6509“When our teacher says,
Pick a partner,
my body freezes
like a ship in ice.”    – Irene

“… Now I’m stuck with Irene?
She hardly says anything. Plus she’s white.”       – Charles

Two students who aren’t friends find themselves randomly paired up for a poetry project. Irene and Charles embark uneasily on their assignment, knowing only one thing about each other – what they look like. Irene has pale white skin and golden blonde hair. Charles has short curly black hair and skin the colour of warm cocoa. So far, so different. Will they make this work? Continue reading

Skipping Ahead to March then…

March 2020

It was a leap year February and the extra day did nothing but make the already awful month even more unbearable. Our arrival in Malaysia for the Chinese Lunar New Year coincided with the global outbreak of the now-christened Covid-19 coronavirus that soon spiralled out of control as stocks of face masks, hand sanitizers, antiseptic handwash and toilet paper were depleted in frenzied bouts of panic-buying. We spent our days and nights in self-imposed quarantine, Anna and Ben trying to keep up with distance learning while I struggled to bear burdens of a personal nature. Before we knew it, we had waded into March and we were back in our adopted home, Hong Kong, facing an anxious future in a changed place. Is this the new normal, I wonder, where we assess each person we meet – family, friend or stranger – for how “safe” they are? Is she ill? Has he washed his hands? Didn’t they just fly back from an highly infected area? Do we – can we – trust them? Do we dare trust ourselves?

In these disquieting times, we find solace in the arts – in the written word, the painted canvas, the moulded sculpture, the haunting song, the arch of the bent back, and the multicoloured chevrons of knitted yarn. May we find ourselves still afloat at March’s end, and stronger for having swum against the currents.

Be safe, and read always.

Maureen, Anna & Ben

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“Shall we escape from this island? To the other island over there?”

The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy

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By Anna, 29 February 2020

When Aila Quinn’s mother Juliet dies, Aila and her younger brother Miles are sent to her mother’s hometown, a town called Sterling. When they arrive at Sterling, they are sent to live with their mother’s childhood friend, Mrs Cliffton, and her family. But Sterling is not just a normal town. Continue reading

Sparrow Girl by Sara Pennypacker & illustrated by Yoko Tanaka

By Maureen Tai, 20 January 2020

“They’re like teardrops. The sky is crying birds.” – Ming-Li

Sparrow Girl

True-life, historical disasters rarely inspire picture books for young children. Sparrow Girl is an exception. From the long-forgotten ashes of China’s disastrous “Four Pests” campaign waged in the late 1950s, Sara Pennypacker (author of the gut-wrenching middle grade novel Pax) has plucked a sliver of hope, turning it into a redemptive fictional account of a child’s compassion and courage. Alas, we know that in reality, the ending was much,  much darker. Continue reading

There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom by Louis Sachar

By Maureen Tai, 10 January 2020

Bradley thought a moment, then said, “Give me a dollar or I’ll spit on you.”

IMG_2421Pop psychology attests that you become who you hang out with. When we meet Bradley Chalkers in There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom, he doesn’t hang out with anyone at all. He sits in his own row at the back of his fifth grade class. He is pugnacious. He lies. He does not do homework. He destroys books. His teacher has given up on him, and he is banned from the school library. He has never earned a gold star in class. He has not been to a birthday party in three years. He is unliked by everyone. His parents are distant. His older sister pokes cruel fun at him. His only companions are his battered assortment of collected miniature animals, fashioned from brass, ceramic, glass and ivory. So far, so sadly perplexing. Why is Bradley so troubled and so very unlikeable? Continue reading

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

By Maureen Tai, 8 January 2020

Twelve-year-old Kaori Tanaka – a proud Gemini – liked to tell people her parents were born in the high, misty mountains of a samurai village. In truth, they were both second-generation Japanese Americans from Ohio. No matter. Kaori knew in her bones that they were meant to be born in the mountains. 

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While Kaori is not the protagonist in Erin Entrada Kelly’s charming and whimsical Hello, Universe, she is without a doubt, my favourite character in this middle grade novel that Anna, Ben and I literally devoured over our recent summer in Taiwan. Not that any of the other cleverly voiced characters are any less engaging: there is the main character, Virgilio/Virgil, whose family nickname is ‘Turtle’ due to his shy, quiet nature; Valencia, who is strong, warrior-like and deaf; Chet, the school bully with a face like a pug and the disposition of a thug; and Gen, Kaori’s assistant and younger sister, whose trailing pink jump rope appears throughout the book and ends up playing a fairly critical role at the book’s conclusion. Family, friendship, Filipino folklore and fate are deftly weaved together to form an extremely enjoyable and satisfying story, making Hello, Universe one of our top reads for 2019. Continue reading