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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Yoko Writes Her Name, written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells. Hyperion, HB Fenn. 2008. $17.99 ages 4 and up

"That afternoon Yoko wrote
one, two, three on the blackboard.
Mrs. Jenkins gave Yoko a silver star.
But Olive said to Sylvia, "Those aren't numbers.
Those are just baby marks!"
"She definitely won't graduate!" said Sylvia."

You may have met Yoko in the first two books that Rosemary Wells wrote about her...Yoko and Yoko's Paper Cranes (both available in paperback from Hyperion, 2009). She is a young Japanese kitten who experiences some of the insecurities of being in a new country, and therefore being 'different'.

In this third story about her, Yoko is very pleased to be able to write her own name. Her mother is also proud. However, when she gets to school where they are practicing said task, Yoko is ridiculed by some of the other children for scribbling. It's enough to make her want to retreat to the safety of home and family love. Can't kids be mean?

Again, in the afternoon, when she is practicing writing her numbers, they look different. Mrs. Jenkins is impressed but some of her classmates continue the teasing, and suggest that kindergarten graduation is not on Yoko's horizon. When
'Graduation' becomes the recess game of choice, Yoko does not graduate and is 'snottily' reminded that she has much learning and work to do yet.

At home, Yoko is distracted and finally tells her mother what the others have suggested...she is not going to graduate from kindergarten! The next day is no better. She reads her favorite book but even that is not the same, since she reads from right to left. Leave it to Angelo, a friendly and sympathetic mouse. He tells her that she has a secret language and he is very interested in learning it. So, Yoko becomes the teacher in Japanese and Angelo helps her with her ABCs and numbers in English.

Does that spark an interest in her classmates? Indeed, it does! And Japanese becomes the second language in Yoko's classroom. While I may not have been so understanding and helpful, Yoko is a better person and she helps the mean-spirited Olive and Sylvia learn enough that they, too, will graduate with their friends.

With so many new international students in our schools in Brandon, the stories about Yoko are perfect springboards for a talk about tolerance and honoring differences. The illustrations are vintage Wells...softly drawn, framed pictures of beloved animal characters who show the same emotions, concerns, and insecurities found in every classroom. On each page you will find Japanese characters that correspond to English letters that label tiny pictures of familiar concepts as well as the numbers from

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