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February 27, 2007 > Spring Reading

Spring Reading

Kindergarten - 4th grade
"Owen & Mzee: The Language of Friendship" told by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff and Dr. Paula Kahumbu, photographs by Peter Greste, Simon Shuster hardback, $16.99. (2007)
I was so excited when I found out "Owen & Mzee, The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship" had a sequel! The first book was a wonderfully endearing story of an orphaned baby hippo and his adopted mother, Mzee, a 130-yr. old male Aldabra tortoise. I was anxious to see what had happened to the pair. Had Owen discovered that his best friend was not a hippo, not even a mammal? Had Mzee gotten tired of having a baby hippo shadow him everywhere?
I need not have worried - these two best friends are still together, and still the focus of wildlife lovers of all ages. After more than a year, it seems Owen is acting too much like a tortoise! He eats what his buddy eats, sleeps when the tortoise sleeps: all he lacks is a shell! Even funnier is the fact that Mzee (who after 130 years surely knows that he is NOT a hippo) has firmly settled into his role as Owen's parent, even stepping in when his friend displays a temper tantrum. Now they've even developed a language of their own, a series of sounds that is not natural for either animal species. Photographer Peter Greste also returns with his glorious pictures of our heroes and their friends. This book is a perfect companion to the first, sure to charm children and adults alike. I sure hope they tell us what happens next! Reviewed by dh

6th grade

The Crazy Man by Pamela Porter, Groundwood paperback, $6.95. (2005)

When Emaline gets injured helping her father on their Saskatchewan prairie farm, she winds up in the hospital. After a painful recovery, she comes home to find that her father has left. "It was the last straw," says her mom. Problem is that the soil needs to be turned and the crops seeded. They ask around for help, but all the other farmers have their own crops to plant. Emaline's mother turns to an unbelievable resource, the local mental hospital. The doctors there send over Angus, a man who has always lived in the "crazy house." Angus is a quiet sort, but sure knows his way around a farm. Soon the planting has started, and so do the complaints from the neighbors. "We're going to be killed in our sleep!" one writes to the paper. Maybe they have a right to be scared, but Emaline knows this much for sure - without Angus she and her mother would have no hope at all.

On March 1, our book group is meeting at noon at Suju's Coffee on Thornton Avenue to discuss "The Crazy Man." Join us in discovering this beautifully written novel told all in verse! Reviewed by dh


"The Eighth Promise, An American Son's Tribute to His Toisanese Mother" by William Poy Lee, Rodale Press hardback, $23.95. (2007)

Just as there is no typical American, Chinese-Americans are hard to categorize. Certainly Chinese-Americans have very different lives from their China counterparts. There is their American English, of course, but also their American view of the world. Chinese who come to America immigrated from vastly different provinces of China or indirectly from the rest of the world - e.g. Taiwan, Vietnam, Cuba, Australia or even Israel.

Toisan is the rural village of the first Chinese immigrants to America, those tough men who came in search of California gold and later came to build the railroads. As hard as life was in the United States, it was a chance to make enough money to help families back home. They worked in laundries and restaurants and lived segregated in Chinatowns. If they were lucky enough to attend high school or even college here, the only work available was in "Chinese" jobs - waiter, houseboys, cooks, etc.

"The Eighth Promise" is William Poy Lee's memoir of growing up in San Francisco's Chinatown in the 50's and about his mother's journey from Toisan to America. Toisanese is a different dialect from the more sophisticated Hong Kong Cantonese and an entirely different language from China's official language, Mandarin. What unifies them is a common written language. Toisanese was the dominant dialect in Chinatowns at that time. In some ways, Lee's mother Poy Jen left one Toisan village to come to another one here.

The memoir takes us from the Japanese occupation in China to San Francisco Chinatown during the civil rights era to the counter cultural 1960's and 1970's. Told in two voices - William and Poy Jen - it is a stunning tale of violence, injustice, fortitude, survival and triumph.

Celebrate the Year of the Pig with this warmly written love letter to a Toisan mother. Toisanese readers will be reminded of relatives and customs in their own family. For everyone, the eight promises are similar to those passed from all immigrants to their American offspring. Reviewed by jp

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