PaperTigers 10th Anniversary: Two Top-Ten picks of Chinese-themed Australian books by Chris Cheng

Monday, November 12th, 2012

In this final post in our 10th Anniversary Top-10 series, we present not one but two book lists from Australian author Chris Cheng, both with a Chinese theme.  The first focuses on picture books and the second on middle-grade/YA fiction.

Chris is the author of more than forty books for children of all ages, including two books in Scholastic’s My Australia series, The Melting Pot and New Gold Mountain, which explores racially-based conflicts on the New South Wales goldfields during the 1860s. Before becoming a full-time writer, Chris was a primary school teacher and then spent almost eight years teaching in the Education Centre of Taronga Zoo in Sydney, where he established Australia’s first Zoomobile.  He has written many non-fiction titles about animals and the environment, and do read this Personal View he wrote for us a few years ago, Drawing from eco-riches: Australia’s environment in children’s books.

Chris is just coming to the end of his stint as an ambassador for Australia’s National Year of Reading.  He is currently co-chair of the International Advisory Board for SCBWI and is Co-Regional Advisor for Australia and New Zealand.  As well as his website and author blog, do check out Chris’ New Kidz Books In Oz blog; and he reports on Asian, Australian and New Zealand books for Cynsations, where you can also read an interview.


(Current) Top-10 Australian Books with a Chinese theme X 2 by Chris Cheng

Far out… you want to limit this list to 10… that is night on soooooo difficult. We are a multicultural country with immigrants from many other places around the world coming to Australia and being integral to the foundation stones on which modern Australia is constructed.

So these are my ‘current’ top 10 favs of a multicultural nature – all by Australians and all have a Chinese theme … biased I know … and they don’t include my books!

Picture Books:

~ The Arrival by Shaun Tan (Lothian, 2006)

~ Big Dog by Libby Gleeson, illustrated by Armin Greder (Scholastic Australia, 2004)

~ The Boss by Allan Baillie, illustrated by Fiona O’Beirne (Scholastic, 1992)

~ Fang Fang’s Chinese New Year by Sally Rippin (Omnibus Books, 1996)

~ The Kinder Hat by Morag Loh, illustrated by Donna Rawlins (Ashton Scholastic, 1985)

~ Moon Bear Rescue by Kim Dale (Lothian, 2006)

~ The Peasant Prince by Li Cunxin, illustrated by Anne Spudvilas (Viking/Penguin Australia, 2007)

~ The Race for the Chinese Zodiac by Gabrielle Wang, illustrated by Sally Rippin (Walker Books Australia, 2010)

~ Rebel by Allan Baillie, illustrated by Di Wu (Phoenix Education, 2011)

~ The River by Libby Hathorn, illustrated by Stanley Wong (Asian Education Foundation/Curriculum Corporation (Australia), 2001)


~ The China Coin by Allan Baillie (Penguin Group Australia, 1992)

~ Dragonkeeper by Carole Wilkinson (Macmillan, 2003)

~ Foreign Devil by Christine Harris (Random House Australia, 1999)

~ The Garden of Empress Cassia by Gabrielle Wang (Puffin Australia, 2002/Kane Miller, 2011)

~ Garden of the Purple Dragon by Carole Wilkinson (Macmillan, 2005)

~ A Ghost in my Suitcase by Gabrielle Wang (Puffin Australia, 2009)

~ Hungry Ghosts by Sally Heinrich (Hachette Australia, 2007)

~ Just One Wish by Sally Rippin (Penguin Group Australia, 2009)

~ The Secret Life of Maeve Lee Kwong by Kirsty Murray (Paw Prints, 2008)

~ Year of the Tiger by Alison Lloyd (Penguin Group Australia, 2008)

PaperTigers 10th Anniversary: Multi-colored Threads of Home by Dr. Myra Garces-Bacsal

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Dr. Myra Garces-Bacsal is an Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Education, Singapore and was just nominated for the NIE’s 2012 Excellence in Teaching Award. In addition to teaching, Myra shares her passion for the written word through Gathering Books, a children’s literature and YA fiction website with a vibrant blog. At the 2010 Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore PaperTigers was honored to co-host a panel discussion with Myra and with Tarie Sabido of Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind. As part of our 10th Anniversary celebrations we asked Myra if she would send us her Top 10 list of multicultural books and she submitted to us this most wonderful and insightful article:

Multi-colored Threads of Home

When I first heard the term multiculturalism in children’s literature, my first thought was one of joyful celebration and anticipation. Enchanted as I am with the nature of storytelling and the lyrical beauty of words – I sensed that this celebration of diversity would give space to distinct and resounding voices, formerly silenced and marginalized. Little did I know how naïve I was. Reading the edited book by Dana Fox and Kathy Short entitled Stories Matter: The Complexity of Cultural Authenticity in Children’s Literature has provided me with a veritable spread of polemical issues, conflicting perspectives, not to mention the sociopolitical underpinnings that provide a tenable-yet-shaky frame for a more thorough understanding of multiculturalism in books for children. Gradually, I came to realize that there are multiple layers that permeate this deceptively-innocuous intention to bring the world to a child’s hands through a book. Issues range from insider-outsider perspectives (with Jacqueline Woodson’s plaintive Who can tell my story and Marc Aronson’s heartfelt A Mess of Stories) to questions of ethnic essentialism and problems of cultural authenticity. Needless to say, my views about my beloved picture books have now become more nuanced and textured as I begin to gradually appreciate the quiet struggles and the thinly-veiled tension that serve as the backdrop of these narratives for children.

When Marjorie very kindly invited me to share my top ten multicultural books for children, all these thoughts were raging through my mind. I knew that I wanted to steer clear of these thorny, hardly-resolved, and undeniably complex issues. At the same time, I wanted to go beyond folklore and festivals. I decided that I might as well develop my own criteria of picture books that spoke to me.

The list that I have here is made up of narratives with a pulse, with soulful characters who are confronted with inner demons yet are able to transcend the sordid realities of life through flights of fancies, quilting dreams, or the promise of spring. While life’s shadows take on a tangible form (be they rabbits or wolves), the reader feels a deep sense of faith with winged-hands that are unafraid to search, reach out, and ultimately discover home within one’s self.

In Allen Say’s Grandfather’s Journey, the reader gets to know the restless heart of a wanderer. In the review that I have written in GatheringBooks, I noted that:

Each page is filled with luminous paintings of places that Grandfather has been accompanied by sparse text that is one or two sentences long. While it is perfect for very young children, I envision that it would also be great for older kids who would wish to explore geography, develop a sense of space and time, while providing a means to understand one’s roots and cultural identity.

 While the story is linear, starting with grandfather’s leaving his home in Japan as a young man to “see the world” and ending in old age with grandfather’s longing left in the air for the reader to touch and grasp – each portrait seems to be filled with untold narratives, inviting the reader to sit back and imagine the possible labyrinthine stories the picture brings.

The book also touches on the concept of transnational identity as Say’s grandfather would miss the mountains of Japan while he is in California, yet he would also long for his ‘home’ in California while in Japan. There is that continual search for something elusive outside of one’s self – the search for home.

Shaun Tan’s The Arrival must be among everyone’s top ten list, as it provides a surreal and powerfully-moving representation of all the strange and odd experiences that moving to and living in another country (outside one’s own birthplace) might engender. Absolutely wordless, the monstrous scales and paper boats in the skies provide the reader with a glimpse of the various Ellis Islands of the world – human geese flying south to find refuge. The muted narratives of displacement are rendered even more compelling with the subtle snapshots of pain, inviting the readers to infuse their own ‘river of words’ as they ‘read’ through the wordless tales of deliverance.

This ‘wordless’ concept of home is also something that Jeannie Baker played around with in Mirror as the reader is regaled with the outstanding duality of what life is like in both Morocco and Sydney for two young boys. From a journey of bedtime and morning rituals as ingeniously portrayed in two different parts of the world – one is able to glimpse desert and dry land mirrored with cityscapes, cars, and airplanes. There is also the startling realization that despite the remarkable differences in appearances, there are things that connect us regardless of barriers in geography, language, cultural practices: there is always the night sky, the moon, family, food, and love.

This notion of kinship that goes beyond skin color and language is likewise evident in Brothers by the husband-and-wife tandem Yin and Chris Soentpiet. Ming, a young Chinese boy just arrived in San Francisco to live with his older brothers, who was among the first Chinese railroad workers in the city. Ming was immediately thrust into doing his family duty to mind the struggling store that they are renting to make ends meet. He was warned never to go past Chinatown, as their almond-eyed presence – while necessary for the country’s survival – was neither embraced nor accepted by the ‘locals.’ Things changed when Ming met Patrick, an Irish boy with “brown hair and eyes the color of the bright sky” as he found a friend who is like him in spirit. The two boys’ friendship illustrates how linguistic and cultural boundaries are oftentimes intangible walls of our own making.

These walls may actually prove to be insurmountable for some as could be seen in Armin Greder’s sparse-yet-intensely-gripping The Island. This picture book demonstrates how the pervasive fear towards people who are different could prove to be tragic and beyond redemption. There is darkness seeping through the pages of the book as the reader is confronted with the extent of man’s unfounded rage and haunted by the many atrocities people tend to commit in the name of fear, and how the voice of reason and compassion may easily be smothered by the shadows of what-ifs and relentless musings of the worst aspects of human nature.

In John Marsden’s The Rabbits as illustrated by Shaun Tan, the shadows are given allegorical and aesthetic form as one sees rabbits in suits and numbats in trees populating this metaphorical universe. This picture book allows the reader to take on a radical shift in perspective as one is privy to the sentiments of the locals – not the foreigner, not the immigrant who is struggling to fit in and belong – but a condensed view of colonization from the mistrustful and wounded eyes of the colonized. In the review that I have written in GatheringBooks, I noted that:

The straightforward, deceptively-simple retelling of Australia’s history is matched perfectly by Shaun Tan’s amazingly-stunning artwork that complements the narrative with dark black spaces, monochrome illustrations of how the rabbits have overtaken the entire country (“Rabbits, rabbits, rabbits. Millions and millions of rabbits. Everywhere we look there are rabbits.”), the sepia-toned undercurrents of loss and tragedy, and the deliciously-surreal representation of all that is right and unjust, pure and sullied, and what it means to stand one’s ground (regardless of how shaky and small and crumbling it is). The book is a reminder, as well, of what we value as we cry out in anguish and claim ownership of what is rightfully ours – as one’s entire world is overtaken, captured, and judged to be less than what it is.

This arbitrary yet heavily-pronounced judgment of the superiority of one cultural group as compared to another is clearly evident in Roberto Innocenti’s Rose Blanche as the reader gets to understand more clearly the gritty aspects of war through a child’s innocent eyes. I was struck by how young Rose Blanche proudly waved the Nazi flag as she and other German kids viewed the coming of the soldiers as a cause for celebration and festivity. The red-ribboned girl, however, discovered truths that even our adult minds are incapable of comprehending when she followed the soldier’s truck amidst the clearing – her innocence and youth stripped from her eyes as she sees gaunt and emaciated faces and bodies in striped pajamas. In my review of this book I wrote:

Rose Blanche is a heartbreaking reminder of the real costs of war – and the fact that nothing is worth the gaping black chasm that takes the place of youth, and friendship, and the lovely act of becoming. In war, there is nothing but abrupt ends, cut-off laughter, and discarded dreams. I invite you to open this book and celebrate the sweet song of spring – and perhaps, in time, we can indeed, create a world that is worthy of the beautiful children we have brought into this world. Collectively, we can strive to be the heroes and peacekeepers that our children have always regarded us to be.

This courage to face one’s fears and grit to go beyond one’s self is evident in Margaret Wild and Anne Spudvilas’ Woolvs in the Sitee. While the book begins with a sense of inevitable doom and resignation – a darkness that threatens to engulf – this does not overwhelm the reader who touches that bit of sunshine and warmth in the pages – primarily because it is rarely seen that it is even more apparent. There is that keenly-felt struggle to find meaning and transcend one’s pain to save another and a decisive invitation from the young protagonist, Ben, to “Joyn me” in facing one’s own ‘woolvs.’

Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach takes us on a different quest as the readers gets to fly among quilted stars together with Cassie Louise Lightfoot, as she ‘owns’ George Washington Bridge and New York through her flights of fancies. It is an evocative graphical representation of a young girl’s resilience amidst poverty as seen in Ringgold’s stunning story-quilts-transformed-into-picture-book. It is a celebration of a child’s indomitable spirit as she declares the world to be hers for the taking while she pursues her dreams in winged feet and star-filled eyes.

I end my list though with poetry as I share the amazing collaboration between Maya Angelou and the gifted graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in Life Does not Frighten Me. I must have read this book more than a dozen times as the lines sounded more like a whispered prayer to me – an antidote against things that go bump and creep in thine soul: ghostly clouds and barking canines, big old meanies and fire-breathing dragons. A perfect gift as well to the Paper Tigers ladies as they celebrate their tenth year anniversary. In this beautiful picture book, the reader is given a dream catcher, an amulet, a magic spell that would shatter the darkest of evils and make the shadows go crawling back where they come from – with the powerful words:

 I go boo
Make them shoo
I make fun
Way they run
I won’t cry
So they fly
I just smile
They go wild
Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Shaun Tan’s The Arrival Is Set to a Musical Score

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Thanks to Zoe Toft at Playing by the Book for alerting me to this video of Shaun Tan’s award winning book The Arrival set to a musical score on the Sydney Opera House’s website.

Watch highlights of Shaun Tan’s visual masterpiece The Arrival featuring a live score by Ben Walsh and The Orkestra of the Underground.

The Arrival is a migrant story told as a series of wordless images. With his Orkestra of the Underground, Ben Walsh pooled a diverse range of musical talent and composed a score to accompany Tan’s beautiful illustrations in a rare and unique audio-visual experience.

Click here to watch

Shaun Tan at Seven Stories

Friday, August 26th, 2011

On Wednesday, Older Brother, Little Brother and I had the thrill of hearing this year’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner Shaun Tan speak at Seven Stories in Newcastle, during his whistle-stop visit to the UK. I’ve loved his work since being mesmerised by The Arrival four years ago; and we’ve also had the privilege of featuring Shaun’s work in our PaperTigers Gallery. Shaun’s picture books truly tap into something essential in our existence so that no matter how old you are and whatever your life experience, there is something there for everyone to absorb and distill. His books have had a big impact on the boys too, and it was a real eye-opener for them to meet their creator and hear about the drawn out process and sheer hard work that goes into producing a book. Now we are all desperate to see the Oscar-winning short of The Lost Thing!

Older Brother was most struck by Shaun saying that imperfection was a “very important concept for an artist”; and that he is always aiming for simplicity, because it’s through that apparent simplicity that he can achieve layer upon layer of meaning. Then accompanying the text with unexpected illustrations to create further tensions – but he pointed out that he wouldn’t call his work surreal per se: rather, the unexpected juxtaposition of familiar objects in his work is what is surreal.

Little Brother especially loved the first in Shaun’s series of cartoons depicting a day in his life: Waking to the Sound of a Solitary Cicada – a huge cicada looming in through the open window. He’s still laughing about that (but, as is so often the case with Shaun’s work, for me, the more I think about it, the more the funniness is tempered with a feeling of unease…). Little Brother also came home thinking about the humor and tensions achieved by people/creatures doing extrordinary things as though they are completely normal – like feeding Christmas decorations to a huge, friendly monster-machine aka the Lost Thing. And when Shaun pointed out that, as per the element of the familiar present in all his creations, the Lost Thing is a cross between a dog, a horse and an elephant, yes, you can absolutely see it.

I was bowled over by (more…)

Shaun Tan interview…

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

In this interview, author and illustrator Shaun Tan talks to BookBits about his book Tales from Outer Suburbia, which has just won the Children’s Book Council of Australia Older Readers Book of the Year Award.

With thanks to Fiction is like a box of chocolates for highlighting this. I do so agree with what they say: “Some people have a talent, but few are as multi-talented and original as Shaun Tan.” After The Arrival and now Tales from Outer Suburbia, what will he take our breath away with next?

Children's Book Week ~ Australia

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Fuel Your MindThe Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) is proud to sponsor the longest running children’s festival in Australia: Children’s Book Week. Celebrating its 63rd birthday this year, Children’s Book Week will take place August 16th -22nd with the theme “Fuel your Mind”. Schools and public libraries from all over Australia will spend the week celebrating books and Australian authors and illustrators. Classroom teachers, teacher librarians and public librarians will offer a plethora of activities: author and illustrator visits, workshops, theatre acts, competitions, and storytelling relating to the theme in an effort to highlight the importance of reading.

CBCA is a volunteer run, not-for-profit organization comprised of individual members who are passionate about children’s and young adult literature. To help promote Children’s Book Week as well as their Book of the Year Awards, they offer a range of merchandise that can be purchased to decorate schools and classrooms for Book Week. This year Australian author and illustrator Shaun Tan, winner of the 2007 CBCA Picture Book of the Year Award for his book The Arrival, has designed the vibrant, eye-catching posters.

On Friday, August 15th, as a kick-start to Children’s Book Week, the CBCA will announce and present their 2008 Book of the Year awards in the following categories: Older Readers, Younger Readers, Early Childhood, Picture Book, and the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books. The shortlists for these awards were announced in April and at the same time the unique CBCA Junior Judges’ Project (JJP) was launched. The CBCA Junior Judges’ Project encourages children to do their own judging of the shortlisted books in the annual CBCA Book Awards, based on similiar criteria to those used by the CBCA Book of the Year judges. Once the Short List is announced, students guided by their teachers are encouraged to read the shortlisted books and, based on the judging criteria, select their Winner and two Honour Books in one or more categories and cast their votes online, either through their teachers or individually.

The Tiger’s Bookshelf: Picture Power

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

The Wolf
This year I gave my son a picture book for Christmas–nothing earthshaking about that until you consider that my son is in his early thirties and graduated from pictures to the printed word several decades ago. The book is one that my neighborhood bookstore has been selling to adults ever since it came to their shelves, and when I opened it I knew I had to give it to someone I loved. The book is Shaun Tan’s gorgeous book without words, The Arrival, and it is one that is featured on the PaperTigers gallery.

I have given picture books to adults for years, ever since I first began my life as a bookseller, and the illustrators that I yearn to give and to own are most often from Australia, a corner of the world that is covered quite wonderfully on PaperTigers by Charlotte.

Just before I moved from the arena of children’s books to a life in SE Asia, a book came to me from Australia that has haunted my imagination ever since I opened it. It is a perfect example of how words and pictures magically combine to create a book that lives forever in the hearts and minds of readers — The Wolf by Margaret Barbalet, illustrated by Jane Tanner (Maxwell Macmillan, 1991). No other book that I have found illustrates so vividly the crippling effects of fearing the unknown, and how facing that fear can turn it into something wonderful. Each picture is a painting, showing a family whose lives become imprisoned by their fear of the wolf who comes closer and closer to their house at night. When it is finally confronted by one of the children, it is revealed as a friendly, lonely creature who only wants shelter and love. Author and illustrator have blended their artistry to create a masterpiece that resonates to all age groups, on many different levels of understanding. If I could, I would give it to everyone I know.

And now — a plea for help — at the same time that The Wolf came into my life, another picture book from Australia also arrived in my workplace and I can no longer remember the title, author, or illustrator. The book however has proved to be unforgettable. It is the story of children playing an imaginary game in the backyard — the text shows the fantasy that the children have created while the full-page pictures show the reality of the game — the garbage can lids that are their shields and their dog who is the prey that they seek. It’s a brilliant depiction of the world of the imagination and I would love to find it again. Is there anybody out there who can steer me toward it?

Books at Bedtime: Cybils nominations and recommendations…

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

As we come to the end of another year (already?!?), all children’s/ya book blogging eyes will be upon the Cybils 2007 finalists lists, which are due out on January 1st and 7th… what a great way to celebrate all that’s been happening in 2007 and bridge to all we have to look forward to in 2008.

To get ready for the moment we’re waiting for, Bookbuds has issued a challenge and the chance to win a copy of the pop-up Narnia

There’s still time to catch Pam Coughlan‘s article in the latest The Edge of the Forest, which highlights nominations just asking to be read as bedtime stories …

…and nominations which have featured on PaperTigers this year include:

Shanté Keys and the New Year’s Peas by Gail Piernas-Davenport and illustrated by Marion Eldridge;

Hiromi’s Hands by Lynne Barasch;

Cracker: The Best Dog In Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata;

Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent;

Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins and illustrated by Jamie Hogan;

Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art;

The Arrival by Shaun Tan;

Twist: Yoga Poems by Janet S. Wong and illustrated by Julie Paschkis;

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – well, we’ll be featuring a review in our next update – I’ll put in the link when it’s available…

…and not forgetting Mama’s Saris by Pooja Makhijani.

So now we wait with baited breath… We were a bit slow on the uptake with our own nominations for the Cybils this year but next year we’ll definitely be jumping on the band-wagon too – though choosing which books to nominate will likely be a struggle!

Before I sign off for this year, I just want to point you in the direction of Jen Robinson’s latest Literacy Round-Up – she highlights some wonderful initiatives in promoting literacy and reading aloud to small children, as well as providing much pause for thought, including Daphne Lee’s article about plans to label books in the UK with recommended age ranges… being based in the UK myself, I can see myself entering the fray there!

So, to all those of you who have supported us since the start of our PaperTigers blog in May this year, and to all those of you who have dropped in since (and maybe this is your first time), we wish you a Very Happy and Book-filled 2008!

Festive little bits (in pieces)

Monday, December 17th, 2007

Today’s bits may not be news for some of you anymore, but here they go, in true December-mode (i.e. scrambling to get things done and running behind on almost everything there’s to run behind on):

Lights have shined on Kashmira Sheth‘s Keeping Corner, which got a starred review from Kirkus, and Linda Sue Park’s Tap Dancing on The Roof: Sijo Poems, which made the Hornbook Fanfare list in the Poetry category. In this year’s Fanfare we find Tap Dancing on the Roof in the very good company of the likes of National Book Award winner The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (YA fiction) and The Arrival (Picture Book), to mention just two of the many great books that made the prestigious list.

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On a “coming up soon” note, Mitali Perkin’s First Daughter: White House Rules, the follow-up novel to First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover is coming out in Jan 24 from Dutton/Penguin. Hurray for Sameera! It will be nice to catch up with her, as she continues to learn to march to the beat of her own drum. A review will be posted to the PaperTigers website soon (and, no, Mitali, the fact that we haven’t reviewed it yet is not a matter of sequel review syndrome, but most likely of “end of the year chaos” syndrome!)

New Online Cheap Shoes Sale New Best Running Shoes Sale Reef Sandals Sale Sandals Resorts Sale Shoes Sandals Sale New Sneakers Shoes Sale

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And last but not least on today’s set of “sparklers”… Happy second anniversary to Jen Robinson’s Book Page! May her blog continue to inform and enlighten us all for many years to come!

The Inkys and the Sakura Medal Awards

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

At Insideadog, the Australian website of the Centre for Youth Literature, State Library Victoria (Australia), voting is underway for the Inkys awards for best Australian and international books of the year. The site, designed especially for young readers, solicits voting from 12-18-year-olds. Shaun Tan‘s The Arrival is shortlisted for Golden Inky (best YA Australian book) and Looking for Alaska by John Green for the international Silver Inky award. Every week until the contest ends November 9, kids can click “Win Stuff” and answer an opinion question to enter a drawing for one of the shortlisted books. There are lots of other goodies at Insideadog, including guest authors who blog for a month, teen book reviews and discussions, and more book giveaways, plus audio downloads and first chapters to read online. Check it out and send the link to a Australian teen bibliophile!

Annie Donwerth Chikamatsu of Here and There Japan reports on a similar (and different) process for the Sakura Medal Awards. Her report for the SCWBI Tokyo newsletter (scroll down to page 11) provides more details about this great Japanese students’ choice award.