Saturday, March 27, 2010

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters (#2) by Lenore Look


Isabelle allowed me to read this book to her, and she liked it so much she wanted to go back and read Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things. As a sequel, it felt like "more of the same", but it's a formula that works for me, so that's okay. (Although, the part when Alvin befriends a boy who is wearing the same night-vision goggles as he's wearing is a bit TOO reminiscent of Ruby Lu meeting her cousin for the first time and finding that they share the same love for reflecting tape.) It won't stop me from reading Alvin Ho: Allergic to Birthday Parties, Science Projects, and Other Man-made Catastrophes once I can find it at the library. I like Alvin Ho more than Ruby Lu, maybe because Alvin Ho elicits some sense of sympathy, and also, I can relate to at least some of his anxieties.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things (#1) by Lenore Look


Thanks to an update from Grace Lin's Facebook fan page, I learned that Lenore Look also wrote a couple books featuring an elementary school-aged Chinese-American boy! I was thrilled because while I do love Grace Lin's books, they mostly feature female main characters, and I wondered if that might seem less appealing to Sebastien when he's older. Interestingly, though, when I picked up this book at the library and told Isabelle it was by the same author as Ruby Lu but is about a boy, she said she didn't want to read it! I decided to read it myself anyway.

The humor in this book is even better than in the Ruby Lu books. A few times, Lenore Look's ability to take a slice of Chinese culture and reference it with a twist reminded me of a Chinese Sherman Alexie writing for a young audience. Alvin Ho, the main character, is first and foremost a 2nd grader, and, even more so than Ruby Lu, he just happens to be Chinese.

As with Ruby Lu, Lenore Look was really able to channel the voice of the young Alvin Ho, imaginative and creative Firecracker Man (his superhero alter ego) at home, mute and friendless scaredy-cat at school. While being entertained by Alvin's antics, most of which are motivated by his efforts to make friends, the reader finds that Alvin is able to learn and grow, despite his fears.

Again, I really liked the way Lenore Look casually incorporated a person with disabilities, as she did in Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything. This time, it was a classmate of Alvin's with an eye patch and a limp who was no different from his other classmates except for the apparent piracy that ran in her family.

As usual, I enjoyed the fact that the book was set in Concord, Massachusetts - references to names and places that I know well always makes a book more appealing to me.

Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything (#2) by Lenore Look


In some ways this book seemed a bit too much like Ruby Lu, Brave and True, and sometimes felt like "more of the same." However, I really liked the way Lenore Look incorporated a person with a disability - a deaf cousin who is super cool in Ruby's eyes. Like Grace Lin's The Year of the Rat, immigration is also addressed at a level appropriate for young children.

Sometimes the stories in this book, as compared to those in Brave and True, seemed to be less well-meaning-but-misguided-behavior and maybe just a bit more straight up misbehavior - which made for less comfortable reading with Isabelle. I had to sort of explain away some actions, or use them as opportunities to teach: "Do you think that was good behavior?" I do think that an actual school-aged child reading this book on his/her own would find humor in Ruby's antics.

Ruby Lu, Brave and True (#1) by Lenore Look


I discovered this book at the library and was thrilled. Like Grace Lin's The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat, Ruby Lu, Brave and True features an elementary school-aged Chinese girl, and references to Chinese and Chinese-American culture are strewn throughout the book. The reading level is the same, too - a chapter book with short chapters and frequent drawings. I read it out loud to Isabelle (4-years-old) at bedtime, and she really enjoyed it.

I shouldn't draw too many similarities, though, between this book and Grace Lin's books. I don't know exactly how old the main characters in Lin's books are supposed to be, but I think maybe they are in 4th or 5th grade. Ruby Lu is younger - 1st or 2nd grade, I think - and Lenore Look was definitely able to capture the perspective of a bold, imaginative, and adventurous little girl. It was funny at times, but I'm sure most of it went over Isabelle's head. Whereas Grace/Pacy (the main character in Lin's books) struggles with some big questions (e.g., how to reconcile her Chinese-ness and her American-ness, what she should be when she grows up), Ruby Lu simply has one interesting exploit after another, sometimes learning a thing or two along the way. Also, while Grace/Pacy's Chinese-ness is more front-and-center in Lin's books, Ruby is more the picture of an average 1st-or-2nd grader who happens to be Chinese.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Emergence: Labeled Autistc by Temple Grandin


I was inspired to read this book after watching the HBO movie Temple Grandin, which I highly recommend. The movie takes some artistic license, but overall, it really seems to portray Temple Grandin well.

This book is written mostly as a memoir, with information about autism studies, and Temple's own opinions about autism-related matters, interspersed in relevant places. Though Temple Grandin is neither a doctor nor a researcher, she writes with authority on a wide range of topics related to autism.

It was interesting, too, to read about Temple's mother's perspective, which was provided through the inclusion of a couple letters that she (Temple's mother) wrote to Temple's doctors.

Having no formal training in autism, I learned quite a bit from reading this book. More notably, I was surprised at the language (particularly in the book's forward) that referred to Temple Grandin as a "recovered" autistic person. I know that early invention is considered key in treating autistic children, and that the goal is to help the chidren "overcome" their symptoms, but I guess I never realized that autistic people could "recover" from autism.

I also learned about how wide the autism spectrum is, how each autistic person may suffer from their own unique combination of symptoms, and how each person responds differently to different kinds of treatments (much like Parkinson's Disease, with which I am more familiar). Included as an appendix was a copy of a diagnostic survey that Temple's mother filled out, and the questions listed there really shed light on the many symptoms of autism.

I don't know how much help or editing Temple Grandin got in writing this book, but the writing was good enough that it surprised me, because there was a level of self-awareness that I thought autistic people lacked by definition. Even as a young adult, she seemed to understand the importance of self-motivation and responsibility, realizations that would be mature lessons for any teenager, let alone one with autism. In describing how she, as an autistic person, was able to cope with life's stresses, she provides keen insight that would be useful for any person - with or without autism - to know.