Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Reading: Fly Free!

Photo courtesy of
In the beautifully written and illustrated children's book Fly Free by writer Roseanne Thong, Mai is a young girl growing up in Vietnam who yearns to set a cage of birds outside the Buddhist temple free.  But, it's too expensive.  To ascertain the validity of the illustrations, I did a little research and believe that they do a commendable job representing the country of Vietnam.  The story itself is also timeless. 

In the beginning, Young Mai does a good deed for a girl named Thu and reminds Thu of the Buddhist principle: Fly free, fly free, in the sky so blue. When you do a good deed, it will come back to you.  This proverb is repeated throughout the book as character after character receives help and passes on a good deed afterwards.  At the end of the book, a wealthy gentleman whose son was healed by a Buddhist monk completes his good deed by paying for all of the birds to "fly free."  The message of passing on good deeds is one that children will delightedly take to heart and fulfill!  I can imagine my own students being kind to one another with the reminder, "Fly free!  Fly free!"  This book intertwines elements of Buddhism with the story, a religion not commonly seen in American picture books.  It is important to be representative of many cultures in a classroom, and Fly Free is a great story that will allow teachers to do that. 

Further, Fly Free is an exceptional piece of writing.  The author has incorporated many beautiful similes into the book.  Simile-writing is a topic that my students and I discuss often, and they love to use similes in their own compositions.  Phrases such as a sun as round and red as a parasol, birds bobbing their comical heads like puppets, and a wound that stung like an animal's bite fill the pages of Fly Free and make it a delightful read, as well as a quality example of literature for budding writers.  Fly Free is also a great book for predicting what will happen next and analyzing cause and effect.  Sequencing the characters' good deeds is also a great activity that would fit with this book.  

The illustrations in Fly Free are lovely, full-bleed drawings that were created by using water color on wood.  This technique makes the pages reminiscent of the village in which Mai lives.  Since I have never visited Vietnam, I could not ascertain whether or not the illustrations were truly representative of this country.  The author has family from Malaysia, and the illustrator is from South Korea, which made me think that perhaps they have visited Vietnam and are more familiar with the clothing and landscape seen there.  I used the Google Satellite function to navigate the land of Vietnam and was surprised by how vast and fertile it seems; I saw no traces of city life anywhere!  Thus, I believe that Fly Free truly captures life in Vietnam and would enjoy sharing the images I viewed with my students to accompany the paintings.  

I noticed that the author has written many books focused on particular cultures, such as Red is a Dragon, Green is a Chili Pepper, and Round is a Tortilla.  I wonder what propels her to write books about many different cultures?  Perhaps it is her interest and her preferred academic study.  At the same time, I noticed that her books are published by Chronicle Books, headquartered in my favorite city, San Francisco. Thinking about how diverse San Francisco is, it is no surprise to me that a publishing company in the city by the bay would desire its books to represent its multicultural population.  

After reading Fly Free, I am anxious to share this book with my students.  I know that they will appreciate the quality writing and will enjoy taking an auditory scavenger hunt for similes.  At the same time, this will be the first time many of them have heard the word "Buddhism," and I am happy that they will be able to associate this new word with a positive experience.  If you would like to know more about Chronicle Books, visit their website, and to find out about more books written by Roseanne Thong or to check out her educational resources, check out her site, too! 

1 comment:

  1. I'll have to look for this book for my classroom.