The Children's Literature Web Guide

Sample Book Ideas for Literature-Based Reading Enthusiasts

From the 1995 edition of:
The Handbook for the Young Reader's Choice Award
sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Library Association.

for more information contact
Gale Sherman:
Bette Ammon:

More Sample Book Ideas
A 1995 Young Reader's Choice Award Nominee (Grade 4-8):
Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear
by Lensey Namioka

PUBLICATION DETAILS: Cloth: 136 pages. 1992. $13.95 (ISBN 0-316-59701-5). Little, Brown. Paper: $3.50 (ISBN 0-440-40917-9). Dell.
GENRES: Contemporary realistic fiction, humor, multicultural, sports
THEMES: Friendship, Chinese-Americans, family life, moving, music, talent, violins, baseball, fathers and sons, love, immigration, individuality, self-acceptance, loneliness, homesickness, language, discrimination, prejudice, lip-syncing, cultural diversity, customs, unemployment
READABILITY: Fourth grade
INTEREST LEVEL: Third through sixth grade


"A warm, funny immigrant story extends the meaning of outsider and home....The lighthearted first-person narrative captures the bewilderment of the immigrant experience and the confusion about customs and language. There are also some poignant moments--the ache for home in China, the sting of prejudice, the wish to be part of the family music. But self-acceptance triumphs as Yingtao realizes that his great eye for the ball 'made up for having a terrible ear.' With several black-and-white drawings...this will make a great classroom read-aloud." Booklist. 88(19):1762 June 1, 1992. Hazel Rochman. (Boxed review)

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. 45(10):272 June 1992. Roger Sutton. (Recommended)

The Horn Book Magazine. 68(4):452-53 July/August 1992. Nancy Vasilakis. (Starred review)

"Namioka uses their [Yang and Matthew's] growing friendship to explore cultural differences and the problems of adjustment to a new society with a light but sure touch. Warm, humorous black-and-white sketches illuminate each character with casual, but astute, perception. Simpler and less incisive than Bette Bao Lord's In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson (HarperCollins, 1984) which is set in an earlier era, this multicultural music and sports story will have a broad appeal for young readers." School Library Journal. 38(7):74 July 1992. Margaret A. Chang. (Starred review)


Born in Beijing, China, Lensey Namioka attended Radcliffe College and the University of California. Her own childhood experience of growing up tone-deaf in a musical family inspired Yang the Youngest.... Fortunately for Namioka, she was able to switch to an oboe. She has been a mathematics instructor, a broadcasting monitor, and a translator. Namioka's mathematics training has had "little influence on my writing, except for an urge to economy." She lives with her husband and two daughters in Seattle, Washington.


Nine-year-old Yang and his family have immigrated from China to Seattle, where his father plays in the Seattle Symphony. Yang is tone-deaf and unable to please his older siblings and parents; they believe he'll improve if he just tries harder. Befriended by Matthew (a talented beginning violinist), Yang is introduced to the pleasures of baseball and adjusts easily to American life. Unwillingly to let his father down, Yang, along with Matthew, concocts a scheme to save the family's face at an upcoming recital.


Although this would make a great read-aloud, encourage students to read Yang on their own because it is such a short, quick read.


Yang the Eldest drew his bow across his violin strings, and a shower of sparkling notes fell over the room. Yang the Second Eldest drew her bow across her viola strings, and a rainbow of notes hung brightly in the air. Yang the Third Eldest drew her bow across her cello strings, and a wave of deep, mellow notes washed over us. Yang the Youngest--that's me--drew my bow across my violin strings, and it went SCREECH. (page 3, hardback edition)
That's how Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear begins. However will it end?


Yang has invited his first American friend, Matthew, to his home after school.
When [Matthew] came out of the bathroom, he looked shocked. "Was I seeing things, or were there really fish swimming in your bathtub?" "That's just some carp my mother bought in Chinatown today. We're having them for dinner tonight." "But they're alive!" "Of course they're alive!" I snorted. "My mother would never buy dead fish. They're not fresh. "I've never had live fish," Matthew said, as we went downstairs. "The fish I eat are nice and dead." (page 32, hardback edition)
The fish in Yang's bathtub are one of the differences between he and Matthew. You'll find out some of the similarities when you read Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear by Lensey Namioka.


Art/Chinese Brush Paintings:

One of Yang's sisters paints a folding screen with a traditional, stylized Chinese brush painting technique. These are books which represent traditional Chinese artwork: Monkey Creates Havoc in Heaven adapted by Pan Cai Ying and revised by Jill Morris (Viking Kestrel, 1989), Monkey and the White Bone Demon (Viking Kestrel, 1984), Paint the Yellow Tiger by Dong Kingman (Sterling, 1991), and Zheng Zhensun and Alice Low's A Young Painter: The Life & Paintings of Wang Yani--China's Extraordinary Young Artist (Scholastic, 1991). See books illustrated by Ed Young and Demi for additional views of traditional Chinese art.

Students can learn about the Chinese alphabet and characters by using Leonard Everett Fisher's Alphabet Art (Four Winds, 1978) and Peggy Goldstein's Long is a Dragon: Chinese Writing for Children (Pacific View Press, 3011 Acton Street, Berkeley, CA 94702).


Yang discovers many differences between his Chinese culture and that of his new country, despite his mother prepping him from a book of etiquette. Some of the cultural differences include the order names are put in, how tea is brewed, talking about money, using fresh fish, respect for elders, eating and talking, and so on.

Students can create their own list as they read Yang the Youngest... and then write about American customs that may seem unusual to people from other cultures. Additionally, students can interview adults who have immigrated from other countries to learn about other unique national customs.


Yang's father plays in the Seattle Symphony. Allow your students the opportunity to hear recordings by this nationally known orchestra. Provide the following books for further study of symphonies, the instruments, and music: Music by Neil Ardley (Knopf, 1989), Musical Instruments by Alan Blackwood (Watts, 1987), Strings: An Introduction to Musical Instruments by Dee Lillegard (Childrens, 1988), This is an Orchestra by Elsa Z. Posell (Houghton, 1977).

Introduce students to the symphony using The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin (Harper, 1982), A Pianist's Debut: Preparing for the Concert Stage by Barbara Beirne (Carolrhoda, 1990), Meet the Orchestra by Ann Hayes (HBJ, 1991), and I Like Music by Leah Komaiko (HarperCollins, 1987).

Provide a game called "Music Maestro II" (Aristoplay, $25), which is designed for players of all ages. They can discover look, sounds, and functions of 48 instruments, Jazz, bluegrass, folk, rock, and classical instruments. Two accompanying tapes were created by musicians at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music.

Social Studies/Cooking/Fortune Cookies:

While most students will have had an opportunity to eat Chinese food, they may not know how to prepare it or how to eat with chopsticks. Provide these opportunities. Though the customs are Japanese, the picture book How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman and illustrated by Allen Say (Houghton, 1984) will provide an interesting look at two cultures coming together over food.

Chinese cookbooks include Cooking the Chinese Way by Ling Yu (Lerner, 1982), The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking by Barbara Tropp (Morrow, 1992), or The Encyclopedia of Chinese Cooking by Kenneth H.C. Lo (Exeter Books, 1985).

Make some fortune cookies with the following recipe after students have written original fortunes: 1/2 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1/4 cup butter or margarine melted, whites of 4 large eggs, 2 tablespoons milk, 2 teaspoons almond extract. Heat oven to 325. In a bowl combine flour, sugar, cornstarch and salt. With fork or wire whisk beat in melted butter, egg whites, milk and almost extract until batter is smooth. Drop batter, 1 tablespoon at a time, onto buttered, heavy non stick baking sheet. Space batter 3 inches apart; batter will spread while baking. Bake 8 to 10 minutes until edges are golden brown. With large metal spatula, working quickly, remove cookies from baking sheet. Gently slip onto smooth kitchen towel. Place one fortune paper in center of each warm cookies. Quickly folk each cookie in half, pressing edges to seal. For beautiful cookies it is important for them to be warm and pliable while folding and shaping. Immediately fold one cookie over edge of a bowl. Press about 30 seconds until cookie holds its shape. Repeat. From Redbook Magazine, August 1985, pages 124-25. For another fortune cookie recipe see Glamour, February 1984, pages 42-43.



Back to the Young Reader's Choice Awards
Copyright © 1994 by Gale Sherman & Bette Ammon. All rights reserved.
HTML Conversion and Web Space provided by
The Children's Literature Web Guide