Stories about an ox, a black belt, and a sad fish
children’s book reviews
Last updated 1-22-09 at 7:15 p.m.
By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
“The Year of the Ox” from Tales from the Chinese Zodiac, written by Oliver Chin and illustrated by Miah Alcorn.
“The Year of the Ox” tells the story of a young ox named Olivia. Olivia spends her early days playing with a girl named Mei, the daughter of the farmer who owns Olivia and her parents.
After some time, Olivia’s parents decide that it’s time for her to start pulling her weight around the farm. Olivia is eager to pitch in, but since she’s still young there’s not much she can do, and she ends up causing more work for others than helping.
Olivia is discouraged because all she wants to do is help but there doesn’t seem to be a job that she can do. But in an emergency, Olivia realizes that there is something she can do to help out and doesn’t let anything — neither her size nor her age — stop her from doing her part.
Miah Alcorn’s illustrations are bright and colorful.Each character’s personality reflects on each page. Oliver Chin uses Olivia’s story to illustrate some of the characteristics of the ox from the Chinese zodiac. The story also teaches children (hard working and dependable) that nobody’s perfect and that nobody can be good at everything. It just takes time to discover what one’s talents are.
“Julie Black Belt” from The Kung Fu Chronicles, written by Oliver Chin and illustrated by Charlene Chua.
“Julie Black Belt” follows a girl named Julie with a strong interest in martial arts — from video games to the action movies starring her heroine, Brandy Wu, Julie thinks she knows all there is to know about martial arts.
Her parents enroll her in kung fu classes. Initially, Julie is impatient and doesn’t understand why she can’t have a black belt right away.
But then she learns that kung fu is harder than it looks and she becomes discouraged. Her instructor, or “sifu,” encourages her to not give up and as a result, Julie doesn’t. She keeps working at it and things become much easier.
Oliver Chin’s story moves at a fast enough pace to keep children engaged while still managing to show the different stages Julie goes through in finally earning her yellow belt. Charlene Chua’s bright colors and animated illustrations of Julie practicing different skills are fun to look at. “Julie Black Belt” is a story about perseverance and serves as a great example to teach children how working hard pays off.
“The Octonauts and the Frown Fish,” written and illustrated by Meomi.
“The Octonauts and the Frown Fish” is the story of eight underwater friends who encounter a Frown Fish — a fish that earns its name by appearing perpetually sad. None of the Octonauts speak “Frownese” and so they can’t figure out why the Frown Fish is so sad.
This, however, doesn’t deter them as they attempt to cheer the fish up. From playing music and dress-up to miniature golf and exercise, each animal shares with the group an activity that they enjoy. The way their new friend’s frown is finally turned upside down is unique, unexpected, and bound to tickle children’s funny bones.
Meomi’s illustrations are colorful and the underwater scenery is very detailed. Young readers will undoubtedly discover something new each time they open the book. Meomi’s story teaches children to embrace people’s differences, not shy away from them. The Octonauts are all different animals but they’re all friends. The Frown Fish is very different from all of them but that doesn’t stop the Octonauts from including him. If anything, that causes them to try even harder to cheer him up. (end)
Samantha Pak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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