Book Review: A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li

This is the second collection of stories by Yiyun Li I have read.  A Thousand Years of Good Prayer is a fascinating collection of vignettes about people who have somehow been displaced.  The stories are spread between being set in China, among people living through the great changes that the country has experienced in the past century or so, and being set in the US, among immigrants.


While none of these stories are as long as the framing stories in Gold Boy, Emerald Girl (which were my favorite stories in that collection), the vignettes are more detailed and stunning, showing a huge variety of people.  One of the things that really strikes me again and again with Yiyun Li’s writing is that her characters are so many different people.  I’m fascinated by wanting to watch what will happen to them next and by seeing how they interact with the world.


Reading Level:  high school to college

Topics:  displacement, loneliness


Also of note for educational purposes:  the edition that I read (Random House paperback, which may be the only edition to date), has an excellent interview with the author and some solid reading analysis questions in the back.


Book Review: Pearl of China by Anchee Min

Anchee Min’s novel Pearl of China traces a fictionalized tale of the life of Pearl S. Buck growing up in China through the eyes of a childhood friend, growing with her.  The artistry of the construction of the book and the parallel growth of the two girls is fascinating and well executed.  The characters are compelling, and the story that they flesh out is historically fascinating.  While the central narrative character, Willow Yee, is not a historical person, she is based off of several people meshed into one character.


The author’s story of how the novel was conceived is quite compelling, but I already adored the book before I read the author’s note located at the end.  Parts of the novel are uplifting and beautiful, many other parts are heartrendingly sad, but most of all, the book has a very human touch to it.


I was fascinated by the way the novel deals with misrepresentation of the truth by the government and by everyday people.  I also just adored the crafting of the book.  While there were a few spots where the book lagged for a moment or two, most of the pacing was incredibly good, and I desperately wanted to know what would happen next.  I’m looking forward to reading more of Anchee Min’s books to see if they capture my interest just as well.


Reading level:  High school (11th and 12th grade especially) and up

Themes for pairing:  Revolution and the life of the people, Important figures as viewed through the eyes of childhood friends

Series Review: Tia Lola Books by Julia Alvarez

I’ve been reading the works of Julia Alvarez voraciously recently, and one of the things that really caught my attention was the children’s series about Tia Lola.  I wrote about the first book in the series (How Tia Lola Come to Visit Stay), and I have since read the three subsequent books (How Tia Lola Learned to Teach, How Tia Lola Saved the Summer, and How Tia Lola Ended Up Starting Over).  The series deals with a delightful range of characters and emotions, and it remains lighthearted and approachable throughout, even when dealing with some pretty heavy subject matters.


This is a series that I really hope to see become a staple in US (and quite likely other places) libraries, especially elementary school libraries.  It is a great series for 3rd through 8th graders, but I think that a lot of older and younger students would enjoy it too.  I wish that something like this had been on the shelves of my third grade teacher’s classroom alongside the Little House books and the Anne of Green Gables series.  I love both of those series (and have been rereading them lately), and I think that in many ways, these books could fit right in sitting with them on elementary school shelves.


I really want to hand these to so many of my elementary school aged students because I think that they have a wonderful ability to show the experiences faced by people like them, or not like them, and how we all share similar things in our humanity.

Book Review: Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez

This is the third novel by Julia Alvarez that I’ve read for this project, and I am decidedly becoming quite a fan of her writing.  She creates strong and compelling characters while facing social and political issues.


Return to Sender is another piece of children’s literature by Alvarez, detailing the story of how a family of illegal immigrants from Mexico came to live and work on a small Vermont family farm.  The story is viewed through the lens of the youngest son of the farm family and the eldest daughter of the Mexican family, the only one of the three daughters born in Mexico.  The friendship and understanding that grows between the two children is one that drew me strongly into the story.  What for me made the friendship compelling and made the story so good was that Mari and Tyler had so much in common despite all of the differences that could be found at first glance.


Like How Tia Lola Came to Visit Stay, this novel addresses many deep and heavy social issues in a hopeful light and in a way that is suitable for relatively young readers.  I would love to address this book and its sentiments in a classroom of elementary schools because it would make them think.  This may be my favorite of Alvarez’s novels I’ve read yet, and all of them have been absolutely excellent!


Reading Level:  Mid-Elementary School through Middle School (3rd-8th grade)

Pair With:  Stories about farming, stories about moving to a new country

Book Review: How Tía Lola Came to (Visit) Stay by Julia Alvarez

After reading How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accent by Julia Alvarez and thoroughly enjoying the book, I looked up what else Alvarez had written.  I was thrilled to discover a host of other novels, including quite a few children’s novels.  Most notable seemed to be a series featuring the character of Tía Lola.  I promptly placed several of Alvarez’s novels on hold, and now I’ve started getting around to reading them.


How Tía Lola Came to Visit Stay is a fun read with many compelling characters, and I think that it would be a great addition to many an elementary school classroom.  The novel deals with language barriers and immigration and being second generation, but it also deals with the issues of divorce and moving long distances, which will be present in many student’s lives whatever their background otherwise.  I found the characters appealing, and the entire tone of the novel was bright even when dealing with some subjects that can be pretty heavy.


I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of the series and many more of Julia Alvarez’s novels.  If she continues to impress me as the first few things that I’ve read have, I may start counting her among my favorite novelists!


Reading Level:  3rd-7th grade (though some younger and older students might enjoy it)

Could Be Paired With:  Any stories about moving or feeling out of place, stories that deal with changes like divorce or changing family structure in general