The New Normal?

By the time you read this, everyone will be tackling Term 2 …somehow. Whether you’re a teacher, parent, librarian or student, we are all trying to figure out how to make the term work for us, and those around us. And somehow, we’ll all make it work, if only because it has to.

The children’s books featured this month happen to be both funny and have some important lessons to learn, which I think makes them very useful for children. I also have a book recommendation for you. It’s an epic, but it’s totally worth your time.

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I was first introduced to the Books That Drive Kids Crazy series when my niece and nephews insisted that I read them This is a Ball one Christmas. They could hardly contain their laughter as they had already read it several times, and knew all the silly things I was going to say before I said them. This is such a clever series, where deceptively simple words and illustrations teach kids about humour, absurdity and critical thinking, among other things. Now all five books from the series have been combined into This is a Ball and Other Books That Drive Kids Crazy!. If you and your children haven’t encountered this series, or your copies have been loved to death, now is the time to get all five books at once.

Many of you may know Jonathan Van Ness from his starring role on Queer Eye. If you’re not familiar with his work then you’re missing out, as he is such a delight to watch thanks to his incredible empathy and intelligent sense of humour. On a more serious note, he’s been a huge champion of people – particularly children – who identify as queer and gender fluid. All of these elements combine in Peanut Goes for the Gold, a wonderful picture book about a guinea pig who brings their own flair to whatever they do. When Peanut decides that they’re going to go for gold in the rhythmic gymnastics, there’s no way they can lose, because the routine they compose is so THEM! At its heart, this book teaches kids to be proud of who they are, and that there is no right or wrong way to be themselves – they just have to live it and love it.

By now you’ll be very familiar with the Funny Kid series by Matt Stanton. If you can hear a child chuckling in a corner of the library or during silent reading, chances are they’re reading a Funny Kid book. The latest in the series, Funny Kid Peeking Duck, starring everyone’s favourite character, Duck, should have them laughing even harder. In this escapade, Max and his friends head off on a road trip to an adventure park, and when the dare competition starts before they even get there, it’s no certainty that they’ll all get home in one piece! As for Duck … will he make it there and back without Max’s help? And just who exactly will conquer the newest – and scariest – attraction, the Tower of Dying Deathly Doom? Get your hands on Funny Kid Peeking Duck and find out!

Read of the Month – Pachinko

I’ve attempted to write this review of Pachinko several times now, and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve really struggled. The novel opens in a tiny Korean fishing village where Hoonie, with a cleft lip and deformed foot, is beloved by the village for his kindness and good nature, but considered ineligible for marriage. Finally, a marriage is arranged between Hoonie and Yangjin, the daughter of an impoverished farmer. The story of the generations that follow, and how their familial story entwines with the history of the Japanese occupation of Korea, forms the backbone of this novel. And yet, it is so much more …

It’s a tale of love and loss, belonging and exclusion, of poverty and great wealth. It’s a story of identity, and the strength of women to pull their families through the hardest times. This is a novel that has stuck with me in the months since I’ve read it: the injustice of the treatment of Koreans who went to Japan in the early twentieth century, and the way even their Japanese-born children and grandchildren were considered foreigners; the unbelievable strength of Sunja (Hoonie and Yangjin’s daughter) to do the best by her family, even when it came at great personal cost; the harrowing moment which made me exclaim “No!” out loud.

I learnt so much reading this book. The history of Japan and Korea in the first half of the twentieth century, and its ongoing legacy – ethnic Koreans born in Japan are still not automatically granted Japanese citizenship – was not something I knew anything about. Min Jin Lee also tackles issues such as the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, gambling – the novel is called Pachinko after all – and organised crime, racism, cultural expectations of both Koreans and Japanese, and the loss of identity and sense of belonging that can come when you quite literally have nowhere to call home.

This is an amazing novel, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is quite long, but its episodic nature, reinforced by the shifting character focus, means it’s a book that can be tackled over time, rather than having to be read in a couple of sittings.

2 thoughts on “The New Normal?

  1. Sue Pitt says:

    In this time of Covid and no library borrowing, all schools are using online libraries. Most of these don’t have the latest publications. I love the reviews here on these books, but they are no use at the moment for use with our students. However, if you were to review older ones that would be more likely to be included in something like the MyOn library or Wheelers, or whatever is being used in these times, we could put your review onto Google Classroom so the students could then find the book and read it.

    • Jemma Myors says:

      Thank you for your feedback Sue. It’s very difficult to find a balance around what teachers, parents and children need at this particular time. If you would like reviews of books that have been out for a while, and are likely to be easily available, please look at previous blog posts. You are more than welcome to share these. New books which are featured on the blog are often available as audio or electronic books, as well as in hard copy, for those who would like to access them that way.

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