Every Falling Star: How I Survived and Escaped North Korea

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Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea

Sungju Lee and Susan McClelland, Authors

Amulet Books, Memoir, Sep. 13, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 11 – 14

Themes: Life in North Korea, History, Family Relationships, Homeless Boys, Street Children, Gangs, Poverty, Loss, Survival, Escape,  Multicultural, Hope

Prologue Opening: My toy soldier peers over a mound of dirt not far from where my father, abeoji, my mother, eomeoni, and I have just finished our picnic, near the Daedong River in Pyongyang.

Synopsis: Every Falling Star is the memoir of Sungju Lee, a North Korean (Joseon) boy who grows up in a privileged military family in Pyongyang.  He dreams of becoming a general in the army. His father is an important military leader, his mother a teacher and his grandfather a doctor. Sungju plays with his toy soldiers and his father joins him to teach him war strategies. His favorite television cartoon is Boy General. His loving  family lives in a large apartment near Kim Il-sung Square. Life is normal and there is plenty of food. Sungju attends school where he listens to the stories about the eternal leader, Kim Il-Sung, studies regular subjects, and learns about the monsters that want to attack his country — the Americans, the Japanese and the South Koreans. He takes taekwondo lessons, attends birthday parties, and goes to the amusement park.

One day Sungju’s father is asked to leave his job because of something he’s done. The family is sent north to Gyeong-seong, where they are to work as laborers in the countryside. Sungju is shocked by his new life and the starvation and death around him. He attends school where he makes friends, but attending is not worth his time. Eventually the family’s money (won) runs out and they fall upon hard times like everyone else. His parents hunt for wild vegetables, roots, small animals in the forests to survive. Sungju sells his books in the market. When his father goes to China to sell valuables and his mother heads to an aunt’s home for food, Sungju is alone. They never return and he is homeless. The twelve-year-old is forced to live in the streets and fend for himself. He survives for four years by joining a gang (kotjebi) and creates a new family with these brothers. Eventually he leads his own gang. Life is dangerous, brutal, and unforgiving. Sungju learns to steal, lie, and fight-to-kill. Everyday he fears arrest, imprisonment and even execution. It is the hope of finding his parents that keeps him alive.

Why I like this book:

  • Sungju Lee’s brave memoir captivated me from start to finish. I know so little about life in contemporary North Korea, and his gripping and powerfully haunting story touched me in a way I won’t forget. This is a true story that humanizes history for readers.
  • Lee and author Susan McClelland vividly depict the sharp contrast between life for the privileged families living in Pyongyang and the grim, deplorable and brutal life for the poor living through the famine outside the city in the 1990s. You understand how children in Pyongyang are brainwashed with propaganda based on myths from birth. You feel the anger, hopelessness and despair of those starving in the countryside and wonder how you would survive an authoritarian government where censorship is rampant and your freedoms are taken away.
  • Readers will observe Sungju’s transformation from a naïve child, loving and dutiful son in Pyongyang, to a resilient, fearless and notorious street gang leader. He uses the military tactics his father teaches him as a child to outsmart his street enemies, merchants and the police. He has rules his gang all agree to live by, like never stealing food from a child. He develops strategies, secret codes and hideouts. He is a leader and becomes hardened. The only heart he shows is towards his loyal gang brothers: Young-bum, Chulho, Min-gook, Unsik, Myeongchul, and Sangchul. They are his family.
  • The story is a page turner, reads like a novel and is packed with action. The pacing is fierce with most of the storytelling focused on Sungju’s street survival. He and his gang are always on the move. They hop trains to other cities, fight with different gangs for control over markets, manipulate merchants, and are chased out-of-town by police. They move on to other cities and repeat their activities. They also suffer personal injury and loss of two of their brothers.
  • Readers will have to wait until the very last chapter to discover how Sungju leaves his street life and is reunited with his family. The ending feels rushed and I wanted to know more about his big escape. After all, it is a risky event. Thankfully, there is an Epilogue at the end that fills in the gaps. Verdict: Teens will find this powerful memoir about adversity and hope, engaging and satisfying.  Every Falling Star belongs in school libraries. Although the publisher lists the book for ages 12-14, the School Library Journal recommends it for middle grade readers, ages 8 -12. Because of the drinking, drugs, stealing and violence in the book, parents should make that call for tweens.

Quote: “But I hadn’t lost everything. I had hope that I would meet my parents again. With this hope, I made a wish whenever I saw a falling star.”

Resources: There is a Brief History of Korea and Prologue at the beginning of the book. There is an Epilogue and Glossary of Korean words at the end.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

Barefoot Book of Children – Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Jan. 27, 2017

Multicuturalblogger buttonMulticultural Children’s Book Day – Jan. 27, 2017

Today I am a book reviewer for the Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCBD). The official social media hashtag is #ReadYourWorld. It was founded “to spread the word, raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature and get more of multicultural books into classrooms and libraries.” Please click on the highlighted link above to see all of 300+ book reviews.

barefoot-book-for-children-61bby4xv8bl__sx423_bo1204203200_Barefoot Book of Children

Tessa Strickland and Kate DePalma, Authors

David Dean, Illustrator

Barefoot Books, Nonfiction, Oct. 1, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Diversity, Race, Inclusivity, Connectivity, Commonality, Differences, Global Family

Opening: Every morning, millions of children open their eyes and start another day. We are all somewhere. Where are you? What can you see or hear or smell from where you are?

This is a timeless and empowering book that gives children a peek into how other children live around the world. The Barefoot Book for Children takes readers on a visual tour of their world and nudges them to think about their own lives in comparison to the lives of kids living in New Zealand, Israel, Brazil, Italy, Africa, Pakistan and China. What are their names? How do the dress? What language do they speak? What do their homes look like? Do they live with a single parent, gay parent or an extended family? What are their favorite foods? Do they go to school? What kind of transportation do they use? Do they have hobbies or like to play games?  What is their faith? In learning about others, children experience a richer view of the world community.

Why I like this book:

Tess Strickland and Kate DePalma’s approach is fresh, versatile and appealing for children. The Barefoot Book of Children is celebration of our diversity, inclusiveness and common humanity. Children are naturally curious about why they are where they are in their specific life. They wonder why they are born to a certain family, what part of the world they are born in and why their lives may feel more challenging or privileged. They may live in a farming community, a jungle or a crowded city. They may be a refugee from a war-torn country. They may be walking miles daily across dusty terrain to gather water for family bathing, cooking and drinking. There are millions of children on the planet, each one leading a life all their own — just as they are.

The Barefoot Book of Children is a thought-provoking book that explores the why of our situation and helps children discover how they are more alike than different, no matter their skin color, language, dress or faith. This book emphasizes connectivity with a beautiful diverse human family. Their lives may vary, but they also enjoy studying the same subjects in school, playing the soccer or swimming, and share similar feelings of joy and sadness. This book fosters acceptance of others.

The first half of the story is a beautiful narrative picture book. The end of the book is nonfiction, informative and interactive. It invites children to take a closer look at all the illustrations presented earlier and delve more deeply into the details. The book encourages important discussions about our common humanity.  David Dean’s illustrations are colorful, lively and engaging. They contribute significantly to this beautiful book. Children will enjoy studying the detail on each page.

Resources: This book is a groundbreaking resource for parents and teachers to use to start important conversations.  Encourage children to write their own story, include drawings and photos of their own lives. Then encourage them to step inside another child’s shoes and imagine where they would like to spend a day in another part of the world. Ask them to pick a country, a different body, a new name, a language, a home, a family, food, clothing, and hobbies. Ask them to write a new story, draw a picture of their new life or tell their story in small groups.

multicultrual-twitterpartyMulticultural Children’s Book Day 2017 is in its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Their mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors: MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books.

Author Sponsors include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawMaria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang.

Other shout-outs to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

MCBD Links to remember:

MCBD site: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teachers-classroom-kindness-kit/

Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents: http://bit.ly/1sZ5s8i

Join the Twitter party (#ReadYourWorld) and book give-away January 27, from 9 p.m. – 10 p.m. EST. Multicultural, diverse and inclusive book bundles will be given away. 

*I received a review copy of The Barefoot Book of Children from Barefoot Books. The opinions in this review are entirely my own.

The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

last-cherry-blossom-9781634506939_p0_v2_s192x300The Last Cherry Blossom

Kathleen Burkinshaw, Author

Sky Pony Press, Historical Fiction, Aug. 2,  2016

Pages: 240

Suitable for Ages: 11-13

Themes: Hiroshima, Children of war, WW II, Love, Loss, Traditions

Opening: “Get under your desks — now!” Yakamura-sensei shouted above the lonesome wail of the air raid siren.

Book Synopsis:  Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her five-year-old cousin, Genji, are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage.  And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and Japan’s fate is not entirely clear, with any battle losses being hidden from its people. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.

This is a story that offers young readers insight into how children lived during the war, while also introducing them to Japanese culture. Based loosely on author Kathleen Burkinshaw’s mother’s firsthand experience surviving the atomic bombings of Hiroshima, The Last Cherry Blossom hopes to warn readers of the immense damage nuclear war can bring, while reminding them that the “enemy” in any war is often not so different from ourselves.

Why I like this book:

Kathleen Burkinshaw’s debut novel is powerfully penned, authentic, emotionally raw and deeply personal. It is a captivating journey about life, love, secrets, pain, loss and hope that will tug at your heart long after you put the novel down.

Even though there are frequent air raid drills and black-out curtains, traditional Japanese life continues with a strong sense of community. The first half of the story focuses on family, cultural traditions, food preparation, ceremony, ritual, and the beautiful cherry blossom and New Year’s festivals. There are family secrets, the angst of adolescence and enduring friendships. Readers will easily fall in step with the pace of life in Japan before it begins to change.

The story is character-driven, with Yuriko narrating. Reader’s will be captivated by Yuriko’s curiosity, spirit, and strong will, which is nurtured by her papa, who publishes the newspaper. Their bond is tight and he tells her bedtime stories of their samurai ancestors and how they are the last branches of their family tree. Yuriko shares secrets and a love of jazz music with her best friend Machiko.

The plot picks up momentum as more soldiers are being sent to war and not returning home. Rumors spread that there isn’t enough scrap metal to build Japanese planes. The Emperor sends out propaganda that the Japanese are beating the Allies in the Pacific.  But, the Americans bomb Nagasaki.  Air raid sirens are going off many times daily. And in a blink of an eye there are war planes flying low overhead.  Sirens sound. There is an eruption of bright light and loud sounds. Yuriko’s world implodes that tragic day.

This is a dark period in humanity’s history 71 years ago. Children will learn that Japanese children shared the same fears as the children in Allied countries during World War II.  Her novel speaks to the enduring will to survive. It is my hope that Burkinshaw’s novel will help readers humanize historical events that have radically changed our world and take them more seriously as they become our future leaders.  The author’s mother shared her story because she felt “the use of nuclear weapons against any country or people, for any reason, is unacceptable.”

Resources: There is a very helpful glossary of Japanese words and expressions that are used throughout the novel, an Author’s Note, and Statistics About Hiroshima.

Kathleen Burkinshaw wrote The Last Cherry Blossom based on her mother’s story of growing up in Hiroshima during World War II. She was twelve years old when the bomb was dropped on Aug. 6, 1945. Visit Kathleen Burkinshaw at her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post. 

Note: Watch for Multicultural Children’s Book Day, which will be celebrated on Jan. 27, 2017. Hashtag: #ReadYourWorld.

For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story

UN International Day of the Girl, Oct. 11, 2016

For the Right to Learn untitledFor the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story

Rebecca Langston-George, Author

Janna Bock, Illustrator

Capstone Young Readers, Nonfiction PB, Aug. 1, 2015

Suitable for ages: 8-11

Pages: 40

Themes: Malala Yousafzai, Educating girls, Children’s rights, Pakistan, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Courage, Hope

Forward: “This award is not just for me. It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change….” Dec. 14, 2014, Oslo, Norway

Opening: “Malala’s own education started early. Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, ran a school in Mingora, a town surrounded by snowcapped mountains in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. From the time she could walk she visited classes. She even pretended to teach. Malala loved school.”

Synopsis: Few Pakistani families can afford to pay for the children’s education.  Others only paid for their sons’ educations. Mala grew up in a world where women were supposed to be quiet. Many parents believed their daughters should cook and keep house. Mala’s parents believed that girls deserved the same education as boys. She studied hard, could speak and write her native Pashto language and fluent English and Urdu. The Taliban leaders were against educating girls, intimidated school leaders, and ordered her father to close his school. But Malala Yousafzai refused to be silent in Swat Valley. She defied the Taliban’s rules. She spoke out for education for every girl. When schools closed she wrote a blog for the BBC and gave interviews. She was almost killed for her beliefs. This powerful true story of how one brave girl named Malala changed the world proves that one person really can make a difference.

Why I like this book:

Rebecca Langston-George powerfully communicates the story of Mala Yousafzai through her careful choice of words so that students are not frightened by her story, but are inspired. Malala is the voice of the many silenced girls who want to attend school. She is a selfless role model for girls everywhere.

I especially like how the book begins on a positive note with Mala receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and with excerpts from her speech. Readers will immediately feel the power in her words and her commitment to be the voice for equal education.

The setting is very realistic with an emphasis on Pakistani culture, community, family life, and traditions. It gives readers a strong sense of what it is like to live in a country where the rights of women and girls are suppressed. It is a story that needs to be told and can be used as a springboard for students to talk about the inequalities for girls and women worldwide.  Hopefully, readers will appreciate their education and not take it for granted.

Janna Bock’s beautiful illustrations make this story soar. She captures the love of a supportive family, the beauty of the Swat Valley with its lush valleys and beautiful waterfalls, the joy of Mala and the other girls studying together at school, the growing fear as the Taliban force girls and women to wear garments to cover their entire bodies and faces, and the danger everywhere. Bock’s illustrations made this book an emotional story that is filled with courage and hope.

Resources: This book belongs in every school library.  It will spark many lively discussions among students about the education of all students globally. For older students there is a page, “More About Malala’s Story” at the end of the book. It is the perfect book the United Nation’s International Day of the Girl, Oct. 11, 2016. This year’s theme is: Girls’ Progress = Goals’ Progress: A Global Girl Data Movement. It’s just not a day, but a movement where girls get involved. Also check out Day of the Girl – US. And, today the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

As a Boy

As a Boy 51ILRDzpuzL__SY382_BO1,204,203,200_As a Boy

Plan International Canada

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Sep. 6, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Boys, Education, Choices, Gender Inequality, Poverty, Responsibilities, Diversity,

Opening: “As a boy, I will have choices from the day I am born. Some will be made for me…and some I will make for myself.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: All children should be treated equally, whether they are boys or girls. Boys have sisters, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. They care about the choices that their mothers have, and the opportunities that their aunts are given. They want to see their grandmothers get the respect they deserve, and that their sisters have the same rights as their brothers.

Because boys love their sisters, they want them to go to school, just like they do. Because boys are sometimes given chances girls are not, they know that this is not right. And as brothers and sons, nephews and future fathers, they can help to make sure that all children have voices and choices.

Why I like this book:

As A Boy is an inspiring global story about boys and their families. Each page features breathtaking, expressive, and powerful photographs that will melt your heart and touch your soul. No matter how difficult lives can be, there are so many smiles on their faces and a glimmer of hope.

The minimal use of text is strong and conveys Plan International’s message “that boys are routinely given an education and choices that girls are not, and that this needs to change.”  The book allows boys to raise their voices in solidarity, to say that they too want the girls and women in their lives to be given equal opportunities to succeed in the world.”

I am a fan of Plan International books. They address tough issues and teach youth about how difficult life can be for children around the world. Since we are a global family, youth need to know that boys are treated differently than girls around the world. Their needs are put above their sisters. But, boys also face the burden and pressure of growing up quickly to be a man, to work, to support their families, to fight and to be brave.

As a Boy is a perfect companion book to Because I am a Girl: I Can Change the World, as well as The Way to School, both personal favorites of mine. Click on the titles to read my reviews. All three of these books are valuable resources for school libraries, so that children will have an understanding of what it is like to be a boy or girl in a third world country. Since so many children live in poverty, education is vital to their futures. Many times going to school involves hurdles and risks.

Plan International was founded in 1937. It is one of the world’s oldest and largest international charities, working in partnership with millions of people around the world to end global poverty. Not for profit, independent and inclusive of all faiths and cultures, Plan has only one agenda: to improve the lives of children. Proceeds from all the book sales are used to support programs benefitting children around the world.

Resources/Activities: This is an excellent classroom discussion book to talk about how boys and girls are treated differently around the world. Pair As a Boy with the other two books mentioned above, so students get a better look at the gender inequality. Ask students if the feel they are treated equally in their country of origin. Make a list. Ask the boys and girls how they would feel if they had to change places. And, celebrate gender equality with other children on the International Day of the Girl, Oct. 11, 2016.

The Water Princess by Susan Verde

water-princess-61zdiscxojl__sy498_bo1204203200_The Water Princess: Based on the Childhood Experience of Georgie Badiel

Susan Verde, Author

Peter H. Reynolds, Illustrator

G.P Putnam’s Sons, Fiction, Sep. 13, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Clean water supply, Carrying water, Africa, Georgie Badiel,  Multicultural

Opening: “I am Princess Gie Gie. My kingdom…the African Sky, so wide and so close. I can almost touch the sharp edges of the stars.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: With its wide sky and warm earth, Princess Gie Gie’s kingdom is filled with beauty. But clean drinking water is scarce in her small African village, and despite her commands, Gie Gie cannot bring the water closer; she cannot make it run clearer. Every morning, she rises before the sun to make the long journey to the well, and every evening, after the voyage home, Gie Gie thinks of the trip that tomorrow will bring. And she dreams. She dreams of a day when her village will have cool, crystal-clear water of its own.

Why I like The Water Princess:

The Water Princess is Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds’ newest jewel. They have created an inspiring story based on the childhood of fashion model Georgie Badiel, who grew up in Burkina Faso, West Africa.  The opening is like a prayer. Princess Gie Gie opens her arms wide and extends them to the expansive African sky. She is the ruler of her own kingdom and she feels powerful. She tames wild dogs with a song, makes the tall grass sway when she dances, and makes the wind play hide-and-seek. No matter how hard she tries, she cannot bring water closer to her village.

Verde’s text is rich and beautifully crafted. The narrative is strong and lyrical. “Water come! Do not make me wake before even the sun is out of bed!” I demand. “Come, please,” I say. It reflects the long journey that she and Maman walk to and from the dirty water hole daily. It is no easy task. The brown water is  boiled for drinking and used to prepare the family’s meal. The rest is used to wash clothing and bathing.

Reynolds’s paintings are breathtaking. They capture the dark purple and gold of the African night sky and Princess Gie Gie’s regal appearance with beads in her braided hair. They highlight the dusty African landscape and deep earth tones. One of my favorite illustrations is a silhouette of the women and children parading single-file to the water hole.

The Water Princess will introduce children to the fact that clean water is not available to people living in other parts of the world. In the story Princess Gie Gie dreams of finding a solution. “Someday…”  And  Georgie Badiel (AKA Princess Gie Gie) never gives up on her dream to bring a well with clean water to her village. Badiel shows kids how one person can make a big difference in their community. With Ryan’s Well, Georgie is working to bring this vital source of life to others in her country. Learn more about the inspiration for the story and the Georgie Badiel Foundation. 

Resources/Activities: The story tackles the issue of global water problems. It is important to read the Author’s Note which is perfect for helping children understand that everyone needs clean water because of the illnesses that are related to contaminated water.  Georgie’s situation can also be compared to clean water problems in America, like Flint, MI.

Join illustrator Peter H. Reynolds, author Susan Verde and collaborator Georgie Badiel for the launch of The Water Princess on Saturday, September 17 at 11 a.m. at Blue Bunny Books in Dedham Square, Massachusetts.  Visit Verde and Reynolds at their websites.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

Separate is Never 61QJH+UcmDLSeparate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation

Duncan Tonatiuh, Author and Illustrator

Abrams Books for Young Readers, Biography, May 6, 2014

Awards: 2015 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book; 2015 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes: Mexican-Americans, Sylvia Mendez, Segregation in Education, Racial persecution, Mendez vs. Westminster School District, Multicultural

Opening: Sylvia had on her black shoes. They were shiny-new. Her hair was perfectly parted in two long trenzas. It was her first day at the Westminster school. The halls were crowded with students. She was looking for her locker when a young white boy pointed at her and yelled, “Go back to the Mexican school. You don’t belong here!”

Synopsis: Sylvia and her two brothers moved with their family to a farm near Westminster, California. Her father, a field-worker, finally got a lucky break to lease a farm and be his own boss. Sylvia was excited about starting a new beautiful school as a third grader. When they went to enroll at the school, her parents were told their children couldn’t attend the white school. They had to enroll in the Mexican school.  Sylvia was confused because she wasn’t Mexican. She was an American citizen and spoke perfect English. Was she banned because she was brown, had dark hair and her last name was Mendez? That fall Sylvia and her brothers attended the small run-down, inferior Mexican school where the teachers didn’t care about teaching.  The school was surrounded by a cow pasture. There was no beautiful playground, just dirt. And, there was no place for the children to eat their lunch.

After approaching the school board with no success, Sylvia’s father, Gonzalo Mendez, began to organize an association of Mexican parents. They filed a lawsuit against the school district to integrate the schools. Sylvia Mendez  and her family helped bring an end to segregation in California, which led to the 1947 Supreme Court ruling for equality for all children in America.

Why I like this book:

Duncan Tonatiuh’s compelling book brings Sylvia’s important story to life in a manner children will easily understand. He cleverly weaves Sylvia’s inspiring story with factual information. The text also includes Spanish words and phrases. I especially like how Sylvia’s story shows children that they can make a difference in their communities, country and world.

Tonatiuh’s bold and unique illustrations are done in muted tones with a Latino flare. They significantly contribute to Sylvia’s story and emphasize the theme of separatism and inequality. The cover is magnificent!

I was surprised to discover that the movement to desegregate schools for children of all ethnicities and races began with Latino children in the 1940s with Mendez vs. Westminster School District. There would be no “Brown vs. Board of Education” Supreme Court ruling without  Sylvia’s original lawsuit. This book belongs in every school library.  Children read a lot of books about the civil rights era, so it is important to introduce this important piece of Latino history into Black History month.

Resources: The author includes detailed information at the end of the book from court files, newspaper accounts and update information and photos of the real Sylvia Mendez, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2011.

For tweens, parents may want to check out a middle grade novel, Sylvia and Aki, which is a more in-depth story about Sylvia and her relationship with Japanese-American girl, who has been sent to an internment camp.