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Juana and Lucas by Juana Medina

Juana and Lucas by Juana Medina

Juana is a charming narrator, reminiscent of Ramona or Dory, who is growing up in Colombia. She loves her dog, Lucas, reading, eating Brussels sprouts, and her family. On her first day of school she finds out she has to learn "the English" this year and it becomes the bane of her existence. Finally, the right motivation comes along and so she studies away to master the nonsensical language. The real appeal of this book is a Latina heroine that will be appealing to young Spanish speakers but also with a personality that is universally appealing and problems that are universally identifiable for children of all backgrounds. Throw in a big dose of great illustrations and you have a fun and sweet early chapter book.

Number of Pages: 
96

Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales

Niño has the most innovative moves any luchador has seen to defeat his competitors. La Llorona? No sweat! The Guanajuato mummy? He's toast! But when his little sisters wake from their nap, will they prove to be his demise?

Yuyi Morales is a consistently superb storyteller and artist, incorporating the Spanish language and Mexican themes fluidly into her work. I've loved all her books so far, and this has proved no different. She introduces the reader to classic characters from Mexican folklore and Niño is the most lovable kid you'll ever see in tighty-whities and a wrestling mask. He trumps his opponents not with violence, but with gentle play. To make your storytime even better, check out these LUCHA MASKS, free to download through Morales' blog, Corazonadas. This is sure to be a win at storytime with any child.

Number of Pages: 
32

Bastard Tongues: A Trailblazing Linguist Finds Clues to Our Common Humanity in the World's Lowliest Languages by Derek Bickerton

Bastard Tongues: A Trailblazing Linguist Finds Clues to Our Common Humanity in the World's Lowliest Languages by Derek Bickerton

Derek Bickerton has spent over 30 years studying pidgins and creoles around the world.  In Bastard Tongues, he explains where his studies have taken him and how he developed a progressive view of languages that were previously looked down upon in the academic world of linguistics.  For those who might not know what pidgins and creoles are or the difference between them, in brief, a pidgin is a language formed when speakers of different languages come together and must communicate on a fairly regular basis. Pidgins tend to be very rudimentary and have highly flexible structure depending on which speakers are speaking to one another and the context in which this communication occurs.  Creoles are formed by the children of those in this community, who stabilize the language and expand it to include complex structures, making it a full-blown language.  This is a natural progression according to Chomsky's theory of universal grammar, which (also in brief) states that humans are born with a mechanism in the brain that is conditioned to acquire language.  Pidgins and creoles often occur in areas that used slavery and indentured servitude, and so Bickerton mostly conducted his research throughout the Caribbean, Central America, the northern countries of South America, islands in the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific Islands--most frequently focusing on Hawaii, where he taught.

I found many parts of this quite fascinating--I especially liked the history behind many of the locations and people he studied.  I enjoyed seeing the similarities between some languages that seem drastically different and how etymologies have evolved over time.  He also discusses a human experiment he tried to initiate in the late 70s that, though ethically questionable, would have been interesting nonetheless in its findings about how humans create language.  The experiment would have required several different couples with children, each family speaking a different language, to live in relative isolation on an island of Palau, but the funding never came through for the study.  At the end, Bickerton hypothesizes further on this concept in a rather frenzied manner, which leads me to why I only give this book three stars.  The downfall is due to Bickerton's tone and inconsistency.  He is a self-proclaimed rebel, an untrained scholar that fell accidentally into the study of linguistics, and I quickly grew tired of his unceasing self-congratulatory manner.  He constantly put down his colleagues and academic rivals, which I found irrelevant to the focus of the book and rather immature.  Also, at times when he describes the grammar of different languages, he tends to use much of the technical linguistic jargon that is oftentimes difficult to follow for the average person (me), but having read a fair amount of other books on linguistics, I wouldn't have even minded this too much if he had left his petty differences out of it.

I would recommend this book to those interested in the evolution of language and the perseverance of people in the face of remarkable trauma and injustice, but also feel free to skip over any section where Bickerton starts ranting about his biases.

Number of Pages: 
270

Do You Speak American? by Robert MacNeil and William Cran

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Do You Speak American? by Robert MacNeil and William Cran

Although this book was apparently written to accompany the 2005 PBS documentary series Do You Speak American?, it stands perfectly well on its own. The authors spend the majority of the book discussing the pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar of American English, and the way that these features vary over time and across regions. Some of the larger sections of the book cover Hispanic-American English, African-American English, and the English spoken in California and in the South. I was fascinated by many of the anecdotes illustrating the ways that these dialects have both influenced and been influenced by other dialects. I also liked the chapter about the difficulty that engineers are having in getting computers to speak and understand different dialects of English.

This book was an extremely quick and easy read, and though I wished it could have gone a little more in-depth on some topics, I definitely enjoyed it.

Number of Pages: 
228

Mirror by Jeannie Baker

Mirror by Jeannie Baker

Apart from a brief introduction (in English and Arabic), this is a wordless picture book that mirrors a day in the life of two children, one in Australia and the other in Morocco.  This is an excellent book to use in comparing and contrasting two different cultures, and I particularly loved how even in a wordless book, it still reflected language--the Australian story on the left side of the book is to be read from left to right, while the Moroccan story on the right side is to be read from right to left.  Baker's use of paper-cut collage is a particularly beautiful medium in conveying each boys' story.

Number of Pages: 
40