Wondering how to get your kids to be a little more aware of other cultures? Did you know it is Chinese New Year season? Welcome to the Fujimini Adventure Series, where your child will learn about many Asian things.
I’ve been particularly interested in the Chinese New Year this year, for whatever reason. Maybe because our own year-end celebration stresses me out, maybe because dim sum is good, and maybe because why not?
Because I am also unnaturally interested in children’s literature, I was interested by the idea of the Fujimini Adventure Series, written by Eileen Wacker. Wacker lived in South Korea for a few years, heading up the children’s book program at the international school in Seoul. There, she came up with the idea to blend a bunch of Asian cultures together as represented by some carefully considered characters and themes. She now lives in Hawaii, where the blend of East and West is both intricately woven and exhilaratingly vibrant.
On Fujimini Island, hamsters, bunnies, pandas, penguins, sea tortoises, and other sea animals all play, work, and learn together. Each species has its own distinguishing attributes, and each character within the species represents other traditions (the Purple Penguin is related to the traditional Japanese reverence for purple as a color for nobility–he’s a little fussy about his manners).
We tried out out the newest book in the series, Silver Bunny and the Secret Fort Chop. JR is six and the son of Publisher Ross and RVA Family Editor Valerie. He’s into Star Wars and ninjas and LEGOs–that kind of thing. He also refused to let me post a video review of Silver Bunny, but my sources tell me he clutched the book on his way down the stairs the next morning. Being unable to let it out of his sight is a good sign, I’d say.
The book is the story of Silver Bunny, who does not feel like practicing Tae Kwon Do with Orange Bunny (the colors are deliberate and mean various things about Asian traditions). She convinces her hamster friends to blow off their obligations and surf for a bit, then seek out Rainbow Panda (who loves to lie around and does not seem to love rules) to help them build a trampoline and make a movie of their sweet Tae Kwon Do moves.
Needless to say, it is dangerous and unwise to get crazy with martial arts if you have been skipping practice. Things don’t go well, and lessons are learned.
At the back of the book is a lengthy-ish encyclopedia that explains various things about Asian culture, like sushi, the Clam Monster, Chinese dragons, calligraphy, and so many other things.
Here is the transcript of JR’s comments. Please imagine the book being held shyly over his face in a video, in the universal child gesture of “Stop sending a video of me to your friend.” The interviewer is Valerie, who is patient and kind and did me a favor:
First, tell me your name.
My name’s JRrrrr.
And how old are you?
And what grade are you in?
So what’s this book called? Do you remember? Look at the cover.
[Not looking at the cover]. Silver Bunny and the Secret Fort Chop
OK, and what did you think of the book?
I don’t know.
You don’t know? Did you like it or did you not like it?
I did like it.
You did like it? Who was your favorite character? Your favorite guy or girl, your favorite animal?
I don’t know.
Well, let’s talk about that. Are there any people in this story?
What are some of the animals?
A dragon, and what else?
I don’t know.
I like this guy. [points to cover]
The green hamster.
I like the green hamster.
And there’s another bunny, right?
[long silence and disbelieving look] No. [points to cover] Those are hamsters.
Right, but there’s Silver Bunny and there’s…
And what does she do?
She teaches kai…
Tae Kwon Do. So what is Silver Bunny’s deal? Does she like practicing Tae Kwon Do in the beginning of the book?
What does she like to do instead?
Is she good at Tae Kwon Do?
She’s good at it but she feels like she doesn’t need to…
Not do it but…
Now when Orange Bunny did cool Tae Kwon Do moves, what did Silver Bunny want to do?
Make a show.
And what happened when Silver Bunny and Green Hamster tried to do the cool tricks?
They got hurt.
How did they get hurt?
Because Silver Bunny was like [punching motion] and [exploding noise]. And Green Hamster was like “Ahhhhhhhhhh!”
Were they ready to do those hard tricks, do you think?
What should they have done first?
[resigned voice] Practice Tae Kwon Do.
Can you find your favorite picture in the book?
[leafs through book, holds up picture of Orange Bunny thinking about a whale] This one.
Why is that your favorite?
I don’t know.
Can you show me the back pages that we read last night? What’s on those pages?
I don’t know.
The glossary, right? Where we learned about all sorts of Asian things and plants and stories? OK what do you think. Do you give the story two thumbs up? Two thumbs down? One thumb up and one thumb down? Two thumbs up is good, two thumbs down is bad, and one thumb up and one thumb down is medium.
[movement under the book]
We can’t see.
[One thumb up and one thumb down]
So medium? Pretty good?
Would you recommend this book to your friends?
What do you mean?
Would you suggest to your friends that they get this book?
Yeah, but we don’t have it.
Right, we’re borrowing it. Can you say thank you for sending the book?
Can you say bye?
— ∮∮∮ —
To recap: JR doesn’t know why he likes it, per se, but he thinks it’s pretty good and would recommend it to his friends if he owned the copy. And now I want to give it to him.
My son Archie is three, very opinionated and outgoing, and is almost exclusively into vehicles. Trucks, trains, cars, planes–there may as well be nothing else in the world, except sometimes robots. He read the book once, asked to read it again, and then again, and then I hid it. I get bored easily.
All right, tell me what you liked about that book.
Um, I wiked. See? [pointing to cover] It’s him and him and she!
Do you remember their names?
What are they?
I don’t know. [Let’s all make a pact to not teach kids this phrase in the future.]
Are they bunnies?
What color bunnies?
Umm…grrrrrreen, yellow… [there were no green or yellow bunnies]
What did they do?
Are you just looking at the cover?
What did the bunnies do?
I don’t know.
Were they practicing something?
What were they practicing?
Did you like that book?
Do you want to read a different book?
[whispered] I want to sneak up on you.
— ∮∮∮ —
Verdict: Sure. It doesn’t really matter what he said. He wanted to read it a thousand times. That’s enough. (He, like JR, really enjoyed the illustrated glossary at the end, although it was harder to explain to him than I imagine it was to explain to JR that Mommy just doesn’t feel like reading you every single thing in it.
As a parent, I really liked all the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese influences, which are everywhere. The lesson is good–practice, but there’s some miscellaneous stuff that doesn’t really make sense. (They go surfing with Purple Penguin for one page, before they get on with their Bad Idea Project.) Maybe it works better in the context of the series.
It’ll get tedious for you to read as a parent, so I recommend waiting until your child is old enough to read to him or herself. Then, have them go nuts. It’s good to know about the world.
Happy Chinese New Year!
- That’s “K” for kindergarten. Duh. ↩