Tag Archives: Physically challenged

King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Christiane Krömer

King for a DayWith the arrival of the spring festival in Lahore, Pakistan, no one is more excited than Malik who is ready for the upcoming kite-flying battles armed with Falcon. “‘How can you be king of Basant with only one kite?’” his sister teases. “‘Insha Allah, it will be fast enough,’” he happily insists.

Directing from his wheelchair on the family’s rooftop, Malik sends his brother “downwind so he can catch the kites I will set free.” His sister remains nearby, carefully following his instructions. Together, the children take on the bully next door, whose hurtful words and powerful kites are no match for Falcon. Once he’s defeated the enemy, Falcon continues to pluck kite after kite from the sky: “When they land, they’ll belong to whoever finds them. But at least they will have tasted freedom.”

Malik is not only king of Basant for his aerial prowess, but even more so for his earthbound kindness as he manages – anonymously! – to stop the tears of a little girl who becomes the bully’s next victim. Joyfully, he’s already planning for next year: “And tomorrow I will start designing a new kite … for next Basant when, Insha Allah, I will be king again.” By highlighting Malik’s many other strengths and talents, author Rukhsana Khan seamlessly presents a hero who is much more than his physical challenges: His patience and skill prove stronger than any bully’s cruelty and greed.

Christiane Krömer, who “specializes in illustrating stories that feature cultures from around the world,” uses multi-layered, mixed-media collages to enhance Khan’s caring story: unexpected combinations of delicate embroidery and rougher textures add depth, carefully placed architectural specifics ground the narrative, while the depiction of a teeny-tiny black cat who is the sole witness to Malik’s secret thoughtfulness turns out to be the perfect ‘show-don’t-tell’ detail.

In the endnote “About Basant,” Canada-based Khan gives a cultural and historical overview of Basant in her birthcountry of Pakistan. She explains in the final paragraph how “kite flying and the celebration of Basant in Lahore were banned for safety reasons and for security concerns due to orthodox religious opposition.” According to a recent Pakistani media article, “Hundreds have died in Basant related accidents in the past decade”! Khan mentions that 2013 was supposed to bring a return of Basant to Lahore, but activities remained cancelled until this year. At least in Lahore, Basant officially returns February 21 until March 5, 2014. Here’s to the promise to lofty adventures ahead!

Click here to see Khan’s other titles on BookDragon.

Readers: Children

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Canadian Asian Pacific American, Pakistani, Pakistani American, South Asian American

One Step at a Time : A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

One Step at a TimeIntroduced to U.S. readers by award-winning Canadian author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch in last year’s Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War, Son Thi Ahn Tuyet’s story continues – literally one step at a time. Now that Tuyet has a real home with her own real family – Dad, Mom, sisters Beth and Lara, and baby brother Aaron – she’s learning to finally feel safe. Nighttime still remains a bit scary when memories of war and tragedy return to haunt her dreams; no matter how nice her own room is, for now, Tuyet prefers to sleep safely “burrowed into her nest of pillows and covers on the throw rug between Beth and Lara’s beds.”

In addition to adapting to her new family and struggling to understand a culture so different from the one she left in a language she hasn’t yet learned, Tuyet prepares for some of the greatest physical challenges of her young life. The beautiful new red shoe and soft red slipper Mom bought for her polio-damaged feet and legs have already filled Tuyet’s heart with joyful smiles. Now Tuyet faces the first of multiple operations that will someday allow her to walk. In the 1970s, hospital rules did not allow for constant parental interaction as is today’s accepted norm; remarkably, Tuyet endured her surgeries virtually alone.

Thankfully, recovery proved to a full family affair: the whole Morris family not only made Tuyet physically comfortable, but each ensured that she was emotionally buoyed as well. From learning to blow out birthday “fire” and realizing that the beautiful wrapping paper is meant to be torn, to not grabbing her baby brother and seeking shelter at the sound of an airplane, to being able to balance well enough on her own two legs to kick a soccer ball, Tuyet takes her new life – and her steadily recovering legs – one glorious, triumphant step at a time.

“Thank you, Tuyet,” Skrypuch writes in her ending “Author’s Note,” “for allowing me to share your story.” Readers, too – especially younger readers who might be facing any sort of adversity – will surely appreciate Tuyet’s inspiring experiences. Step by step, Skrypuch shows with forthright clarity how Tuyet becomes her own very best hero.

Tidbit: Here’s an update (with pictures!) from Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch herself!

Last year, Last Airlift won the Red Cedar award in British Columbia and was a [2013] Red Maple Honour Book in Ontario. These awards are readers’ choice awards, where kids do the voting. For the Red Maple award, the Ontario Library Association hosts a huge event at Harbourfront in Toronto, with thousands of kids bussed in. I arranged for Tuyet to stand on the stage with me, and for her daughter to hold the sign and her son to introduce the book. We had long snaking line-ups for autographs, and many of the kids wanted Bria and Luke to sign their books in addition to me and Tuyet signing them. I’ve got some photos on my website. Check it out here:
♦   Last Airlift signing with Tuyet and her kids
♦   Red Maple Day at Harbourfront
♦   Tuyet and Red Maple Day

Readers: Middle Grade

Published: 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, .Biography, .Nonfiction, Canadian, Canadian Asian Pacific American, Southeast Asian, Southeast Asian American, Vietnamese American

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters (Book 2), Allergic to Birthday Parties, Science Projects, and Other Man-Made Catastrophes (Book 3), Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, and Other Fatal Circumstances (Book 4), Allergic to Babies, Burglars, and Other Bumps in the Night (Book 5) by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Alvin Ho 2-4

As part of appreciating the versatile art of LeUyen Pham – who with her hubby Alex Puvilland imbued Friday’s post, Templar, with such swashbuckling energy – I thought I should keep a good thing going by adding a few more Pham-tabulously illustrated titles this bright new Monday. [Truth be told, I wouldn't mind channeling some of that swashbuckling energy myself, ahem!]

Welcome back to Concord, Massachusetts, the literary birthplace for many – including darling Alvin Ho, introduced in Book 1: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things. In spite of … or because of … the many challenges this brave young man faces – most especially he seems unable to speak out loud in school, not to mention being afraid of just about everything – Alvin is one imaginative hero. Armed with his PDK (Personal Disaster Kit), and well supported (whether he wants back-up or not!) by his family (little sister Anibelly is beyond delightful) and friends (Flea with her self-described “‘irregular arms or legs’” is the ultimate example of total girl power!), Alvin is getting through second grade with courage he sometimes forgets he has!

In Book 2, Alvin and Anibelly discover the many joys of camping, even if their only weekend catch is their shocked (upside-down) father. In Book 3, Alvin realizes just in time that getting the ‘right’ birthday invitation doesn’t always mean that’s the ‘right’ party to attend. In Book 4, Alvin’s inability to speak in school causes a life-and-death misunderstanding as he worries about how he will bring himself to attend his grandfather’s friend’s funeral. And, in the latest Book 5 (out this spring), Alvin needs to transform his usual PDK into a Pregnancy Disaster Kit as he just might be in the family way along with his baby-full mother!

Author Lenore Look manages to balance the neverending humor with well-woven moments of reality. As we giggle and laugh with Alvin, Look gently reminds us that children can have serious issues; Alvin sees a counselor regularly to face his fears (and hopefully find his voice). She carefully adds glimpses of the world beyond Alvin’s limited comfort zone by including a bit of history in each installment – from the American Revolution to Native Americans to even the tragic 2010 Haiti earthquake. And, of course, in every volume, LeUyen Pham whimsically gives Alvin his joy, his shock, his worry, his frustrations, his adoration, his appreciation … his reactions are perpetually wondrous under Pham’s pen. Here’s selfishly hoping that this unique fear factor continues for many seasons to come …!!

Readers: Middle Grade

Published: 2009-2013

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, .Fiction, Chinese American, Vietnamese American

Good Night, Commander by Ahmad Akbarpour, illustrated by Morteza Zahedi, translated by Shadi Eskandani and Helen Mixter

Award-winning Iranian writer Ahmad Akbarpour uses the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988, claiming 1.5 million lives) as the backdrop for this indelible, meaningful story about a young boy who lost his mother – and his leg. “The story is set in Iran,” Akbarpour explains in his author’s note, “But it could be the story of any child in any country where a war is fought for economic, strategic, ideological or other reasons, and in the end leaves everyone far worse off than they were before, especially the innocent victims.”

Alas, the world never seems to have a shortage of deadly conflicts … and no one suffers more than children: if they manage to survive death and destruction, they will have to live the longest with the tragic consequences. Children in war zones are forced to grow up far too early, and need ways to process their trauma. Those who are blessed to be war-free throughout their youth, would do well with exposure to age-appropriate materials that bring awareness of alternatives to intolerance, violence, hate, and body counts.

In the midst of playing alone in his room, a young boy is interrupted by his father, and reminded to remove his prosthetic leg when at home because “[i]t makes a lot of noise and you might damage it.” He does so reluctantly and resumes his game, determined that he “‘… will avenge [his mother’s] death!’” The boy is the titular ‘Commander’ – fighting invisible foes and their land mines, grenades, and injured screams. His only break is a call to the dinner table, where his father, grandmother, aunts, and uncles have gathered to celebrate his father’s upcoming remarriage.

While the Commander replays his terrifying memories – as if repetition might somehow dull the tragedy – life for the rest of his family moves on. Now faced with a major change – a “new mother”! – the Commander works harder than ever seeking justice for his own beloved late mother. Yet when his imagination places him face-to-face with another motherless soldier boy missing his leg, the Commander doesn’t shoot, but instead allows his imaginary enemy to borrow his prosthetic leg “only for tonight.” He calls a cease-fire, initially ashamed, but then his mother commends him from her picture on the wall: “‘Congratulations, Commander. I’m proud of you.’”

Akbarpour’s illustrator, fellow Iranian Morteza Zahedi, channels the stick figures common in toddlers’ drawings, adding hauntingly detailed expressions especially on the face of the young boy. The result is chillingly effective, the boy’s unfiltered insight a sobering reminder of how children clearly comprehend the world around them. Thanks to the great wisdom of the world’s youngest citizens, the promise of peace looms.

Readers: Children

Published: 2005, 2010 (United States)

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, .Translation, Iranian