Monday, January 26, 2015

Reviews: Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper and Half Spoon of Rice by Icy Smith for Multicultural Children's Book Day

Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raúl the Third
Chronicle Books, 2014, 112 pages

Three friends, Lupe Impala, a female mechanic extraordinaire, Elirio Malaria, a mosquito detail artist, and El Chavo Blackjack, the best eight armed octopus car washers/polisher for miles around, all work in a garage with a demanding boss, but dream of someday owning their own place.  But that takes lots of dinero (money) and that's something they don't have a much of.

Then the talented trio see a flyer announcing a Universal Car Competition, which means that kinds of Ranflas (lowriders) are eligible to enter.  The winner who has the "most mechanically inventive exquisitely detailed cosmic car" will receive the Golden Steering Wheel Award and a carload of money.  Suddenly the dream of their own garage seems to be a possibility.

All they need is a car and a way to fix it up.  Flappy knows where to find just the junker car they need, but it turns out to need more work than Lupe, Elirio and Flappy expected.  Trying to come up with all kinds of ideas, Elirio tells them they can find spare parts for their car at an abandoned airplane factory.

Finding some rocket parts, they fix up their car and suddenly find themselves taking a ride through space.  Space provides all kinds of cosmic fixes on their car, but they also run into some obstacles.  Will Lupe, Elirio and Flappy make it back to earth in time for their truly cosmic car to enter the competition?

 One of the goals of Multicultural Children's Book Day is to introduce young readers to different cultures and languages.  And, I have to confess, that is just what occurred when I read Lowriders in Space.  While I have seen lowriders, I had not idea there is a whole lowrider culture surrounding these cars, started by Mexican Americans in Southern California.  But Cathy Camper's graphic novel nicely highlights this culture and its Mexican American roots and therein lies the charm of this story.

Added to that, and giving the story a nice sense of authenticity, Camper has peppered Lowriders in Space with lots of automotive slang and Spanish words.  Be sure to look at the back matter, where there is an informative (I can vouch for that) Note About Lowriders, and a Glossary of both Spanish and English words.

The whimsical, highly energetic illustrations by Raúl the Third were done in red, blue and black Sharpie pen on dark buff colored paper that also add to the authenticity of the story.

This is a culturally diverse book that is both fun and informative and is sure to please young readers, especially those who like graphic novels.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Chronicle Books

Half Spoon of Rice: A Survival Story of Cambodian Genocide by Icy Smith, illustrated by Sopaul Nhem
East West Discovery Press, 2010, 42 pages

It's April 17, 1975 and the Cambodian New Year festival is about to start in Phnom Penh when suddenly soldiers wearing black pajama-like uniforms and red and white checkered scarves drive into the city, waving their guns and telling every one they must leave immediately, that the Americans are going to bomb the city.

Nat, 9, and his mom and dad gather a few things together, including a bag of rice and leave Phnom Penh with millions of other scared people.

Walking for days without rest or any real food, Nat, his parents and the other people are driven further and further into the countryside, passing the bodies of those would couldn't keep up and either died or were shot.  But Nat has heard not bombing yet.  This are the Khmer Rouge army, Nat's father tells him.  They probably want us in the country to grown rice, he speculates further, but at least the family is still together.

Finally, the survivors of this march arrive at a village where they are allowed to rest and eat whatever food they may have.  Nat sees a girl watching him.  Her name is Malis and she has lost her family.  Nat's family invites her to stay with them as they continue their walk deeper into the countryside.

When they finally come to another stop, the families are divided - men with men, women with women, boys with boys, girls with girls.  Everyone is put to work for long hours and given very little food, eventually only a half spoon of rice day a day, with the Khmer Rouge army always standing guard with their guns.

Nat begins to notice more and more people "disappearing" if they don't obey the Khmer Rouge guards, but one night hunger and sleeplessness drive him into the forest to look for food, even though it means death if caught.  But instead he meet Malis also looking for food.

Altogether, Nat and Malis spend four years in the camp.  But one day, the Khmer Rouge guards abandon the camp, running from the Vietnamese Liberation Army.   Nat, Malis and all the other survivors leave the camp, and go in search of their families, hoping they are still alive.  But will they be reunited?

In this picture book for older readers, Icy Smith introduces the short but deadly history of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge dictatorship between 1975 and 1979.  The Khmer Rouge was a particularly harsh, brutal regime, and that comes across in Half Spoon of Rice, but without getting into so much detail that a young reader would become frightened.

And having a child narrator, who has little knowledge of the politics behind Khmer Rouge, helps to keep the story age appropriate.  Nat is a good observer, but doesn't always understand what he is seeing or experiencing.  It also means that his narration is simple, clear and easily understood by kids.

Half Spoon of Rice is based on the true stories of survivors of this terrible period in Cambodian history.   In fact, the talented artist Sopaul Nhem, who did the illustrations for this book, is the son of a talented Cambodian artist, Nhean Nhem, who is himself a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime.  Sopaul's realistic watercolors help tell this story that must have a great deal of meaning for him.

Be sure to read the informative Author's Note at the back of the book that is accompanied with photographs of the Khmer Rouge and the kind of camps that Nat was sent to.  Sadly, this is a story that will resonate in today's world.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was sent to me by the author/publisher (Icy Smith/East West Discovery Press)

"Our mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid's books that celebrate diversity,
but to get more of those books into classrooms and libraries"

Today is the 2nd annual Multicultural Children's Book Daya day set aside for celebrating and promoting children's books with diverse content.  This event was co-created by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press and Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom.  I am very excited to be a participant in today's event.Valarie and Mia had a very specific mission in mind when they came up with the idea for Multicultural Children's Book Day:

Mission: Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.

MCCBD team hopes to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children's literature.  Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions, and religions within the pages of a book.  We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers, and librarians to follow the fun book reviews, author visits, event details all week long.

Interest in this event has grown considerably since the first Multicultural Children's Book Day was held on January 27, 2014 and so has the list of publisher's who are sponsoring this year's event:

Platinum Sponsors: Wisdom Tales Press,Daybreak Press Global Bookshop,

Gold Sponsors:  Satya House,,   Author Stephen Hodges and the Magic Poof,

Silver SponsorsJunior Library Guild,  Capstone PublishingLee and Low Books,  The Omnibus Publishing.

Bronze Sponsors:Double Dutch DollsBliss Group BooksSnuggle with Picture Books Publishing,  Rainbow Books,   Author FeliciaCapers,  Chronicle Books   Muslim Writers Publishing,East West Discovery Press.

And be sure to visit our Author Sponsors to discover their really wonderful diverse books for young readers.

There will be lots of events this week, including giveaways.  In fact, Wisdom Tales is hosting a giveaway in honor of Children's Multicultural Book Week for 6 books of your choice, all beautifully produced and very diverse.

There will also be a Multicultural Children's Book Day Twitter party on January 27th at 9:00 PM EST. You can use the hashtag #ReadYourWorld to win 10 books.

You may also want to subscribe to the new Read Your World/Multicultural Children's Books Resource at

MCCBD is also partnering with First Book to be able to offer a Virtual Book Drive that will help donate multicultural children's books through their channels during the week of this event.  If you want to get diversity books into the hands of kids who most need it, now you have a way to do it!

And a big thank you to the Children's Book Council for collaborating with Multicultural Children's Book Day to highlight wonderful diversity books and authors on an ongoing basis all year.  The CBC's Diversity Initiative is dedicated to increasing the diversity of voices and experiences contributing to children's and young adult literature.

Be sure to check out the Multicultral Books for Kids on Pinterest, where you will find all kinds of good book choices review by many different bloggers.

And finally, be sure to visit Valarie at Jump Into a Book and/or Mia at Pragmatic Mom for a link party featuring all of today's reviews.


  1. Hello Alex and Happy Multicultural Children's Book Day. Thank you for these wonderful reviews and for celebrating with us !!! Valarie

    1. Your welcome, Valarie, it was a pleasure to reveiw these two books and participate in Multicultural Children's Book Day.

  2. I love the idea of a low-rider graphic novel. Thank you for sharing! Will be checking these out soon.

    1. You're welcome, Amanda. This is a fun graphic novel and informative at the same time. I learned a lot about lowriders that I didn't know, but I imagine it's even more enjoyable if you are familiar with lowrider culture.

  3. Loved both the book reviews! So happy to take part in this wonderful multicultural event!

    1. Thanks, but very different books, aren't they? I was also happy to take part in Multicultural Children's Book Day.

  4. Wow...what a difference in books. "Half Spoon of Rice" is going on my TBR list. Thanks for sharing!
    ~Cool Mom
    for the Stanley & Katrina Gang

    1. I know, they are very different. I have read a few of Icy Smith's books and she always does such a good job presenting a difficult story for kids.


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