Cultural Analysis of Children’s Literature

Title: Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear
Illustrator: Kees de Keifte
Author: Lensey Namioka

What is this book about?

Yingtao, the youngest Yang, and his family just moved to Seattle from China. His father is a violin player/teacher and the maestro of the family’s string quartet. Yingtao is tone deaf and struggles to meet the expectations of his father while becoming a part of the new culture in America. Yingtao meets Matthew, a fellow violinist and baseball player. They become friends and realize that they have some things in common. They both desire to do something other than what their fathers have chosen for them. This story touches on issues of culture, friendship, sensitivity and self-discovery.

1. Choose a word that is new or different in the book and explain how you will explore it with your students.

Lip sync/Synchronize
Unemployment benefits

Vocabulary building activities include dictionary skills, synonym/antonym, examples and illustrations to “show” meaning. These words will be used in the compositions accompanying this unit.

2. What do you expect to be your students’ favorite part of the book and why?

I expect the recital to be their favorite part. This is the climax of the story and the students should experience various emotions at this point – nervousness and anxiety, at first. They will find it funny and be relieved with the way it ends – happily.

3. What will be their favorite illustration in the book and why?

Page 112 shows a sketch of the recital calamity. The illustrations are not very stimulating, but this one may help them experience the event.

4. What is the primary thing your students will learn from this book?

Students will learn about two cultures – that of an immigrant Chinese family and that of a low-income “white” family. The reader will experience and dispel the stereotypes and misconceptions about these cultures through the honest, innocent and humorous interaction between these two families.

5.How will the book make your students feel when reading it?

The readers will experience a variety of emotions while reading this book. They will be sympathetic to Yingtao at first due to his low self-esteem. Some students may feel sorry for him due to his financial status and the description of his living conditions, while others may relate very closely to it. Students will be excited about his new friendship with Matthew and hopeful about the plans that they make together. At the end of the book, the readers will be happy and hopeful about the relationships and experiences that were created as a result of these two boys becoming friends.

6. Complete your cultural analysis:

A. List the similarities between the book and your students’ culture.
1. Low SES
2. Second-language learners
3. Same age
4. Family circumstances
5. Immigrant

B. List the differences between the book and your students’ culture.
1. Both boys have both parents
2. Both involved in extracurricular activities with parental support
3. Chinese and white people are the focus – both of which are scarce to non-existent in our school

C. Analyze the difference, both the ones that you liked and the ones that made you uncomfortable. Discuss these in your presentation.

I was not uncomfortable with anything in the book. All of the issues were presented in a fair and benign way with positive outcomes. The differences will be far overshadowed by the similarities and the issues related to being a 9-yr. old kid.

7. Select appropriate pre-reading strategies.

A. I will present the students with a violin, baseball paraphernalia, a container of live fish and a bowl of rice. These things will illicit questions, predictions and curiosity from the students.

B. We will analyze the cover of the book to infer and/or make predictions.

C. Students will write a composition of the two options: 1) about a time when he/she was expected to do or be a part of something and could not meet those expectations. 2) about a time when he/she was new to a situation and struggled to fit in. *students will have already learned the personal narrative/memoir style of writing through another literary unit.

D. Students will listen to a selected violin piece in order to expose them to what the instrument should sound like.

E. Students will create and maintain a reflection journal – each day discussing questions like “What did a character in the book do that I can do?” or “What character would I like to be friends with?” ** The first entry will be a prediction and/or question they want answered by the story.

8.Select appropriate during reading activities.

A. Students will compile a vocabulary list of unfamiliar words to be examined.

B. The students will analyze the events of each chapter and describe the characters with the following type of prompts: “Yingtao is a boy whoâÂ?¦” This process will illustrate the evolution of the characters throughout the story.

C. Students will compare/contrast details of the lives of Yingtao, Matthew and themselves using Venn diagrams.

D. Students will hear another piece of violin music – this time more upbeat and pleasing to them.

9. Select appropriate post reading/literature response activities.

A. Students will compare their personal narrative to the story of Yingtao.

B. Begin a persuasive writing unit – writing letters to parent persuading them to allow the students to pursue an interest that had previously been ignored or denied.

C. Math, science and social studies can be integrated here using Everybody Cooks Rice, a book containing recipes for various rice dishes across the cultures. (this connection is drawn to what Yingtao eats at every meal.)

D. Students will experience the music of Bond, a female string quartet – includes classical, pop and classic rock songs played in instrumental pop/dance form. ** the music pieces were intentionally increasing in appeal to the students in an effort to expose them to the various types of music that can be created by the violin as well as establish an appreciation for the music itself (most people associate violin with “boring/sleepy-time” music).

E. Students will illustrate the cover of their reflection journal to represent what the story most meant to them or what they learned from it.

10.What makes this a multicultural selection that teachers can use in the classroom?

This book shares experiences of two boys who seem to be misplaced within their own families – not just in school. They each explore the culture of the other and discover that their differences are valuable and that they can learn a great deal from each other. The story touches on issues faced by immigrant children, “mainstream” children with low SES, children with talents, and children with low self-esteem. Students may also find comfort in the building of self-esteem that each boy tackles.

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