Shadow Spinner

9780689830518_xlgShadow Spinner is a wonderful piece of historical fiction by Susan Fletcher. It dives deep into the original story of the 1001 Arabian Nights. In this book, Marjan is a young girl who has a hero—Shahrazad. One day, five years ago, the Sultan, Shahryar, caught one of his wives dallying with her lover and executed her. He started to believe that all women were betrayers. So, every day, he would marry a young girl and then kill her the next morning. But then, Shahrazad came along. Shahrazad tells stories to her sister Dunyazad, and every day, the Sultan let’s her stay alive so that she can resume the story. And, folded carefully into her stories, Shahrazad is trying to indirectly teach some lessons to the Sultan . Now, she is running out of stories. Then, they meet Marjan, who supplies them with one last story. It is the tale of the Mermaid Julnar. But the Sultan, upon hearing it, asks Shahrazad for the rest of the tale—about Julnar’s son, who had a name that had”two parts to it,” he remembers, “both starting with the same letter, maybe a ‘B’, or a ‘D’.” Now, Shahrazad, Dunyazad, and Marjan need to find that story, because none of them know it! Will they succeed… or will Shahrazad get executed, just like all the others before her? Read the book to find out!

For this book, I have tried to recreate an entry from a journal of Dunyazad, Queen Shahrazad’s younger sister whom Shahrazad tells stories to. Here it is.

JOURNAL of DUNYAZAD (this excerpt is from the day Dunyazad and Shahrazad first meet Marjan)

In the Fourteenth Year of King Shahryar’s Reign

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

On the Sixth Day of the Seventh Month


My sister, Shahrazad, has been telling Shahryar, the Sultan, stories every night. It has been nine hundred and eighty-nine nights since she first started telling stories! Now, she is running out of stories.

I find the harem boring, so quite a long time ago, I started getting good at hiding in different parts of the harem and visiting the different places. Now, I know the harem like home. I was walking along the bazaar part of the harem, thinking desperately of some place I had heard a story, any story that Shahrazad had not yet told. I racked my brains, but I could not think of anything. I wish I had my sister’s memory. She remembers every single story she reads!

As I was thinking about our desolate situation, I heard children giggling. I looked up. I saw my friend Mitra, who is seven, with her pet gazelle, and some of the other children crowded about a young girl, who seemed almost my age! I came closer. Was she… telling a story? As she saw me, she stopped. I prodded her to continue. She was telling a story that I had never heard before! I was sure of it. This story was the one we needed! “Do you know other stories?” I asked her when she had finished. She nodded.

I couldn’t control my excitement inside—this girl could tell us new stories that Shahrazad could tell to Shahryar! I went to the woman standing nearby, selling her goods, who was either her mother or aunt. I talked to her. She introduced herself as the girl’s Aunt Chava, and I asked if I could take the girl with me to the harem for a few hours. I promised a fine reward of gold dinars in return. She let me take her.

So then, I returned to the girl. “What is your name?” I asked. She obviously realized I was somewhat royal, and she was right, because I was the Queen’s sister. She told me she was Marjan. So I led Marjan right through the harem gates and took her to Shahrazad’s room. I took her through an extensively long route. This was because I wanted to avoid the Khatun as much as possible. She would ruin everything. I knew it. I hurried up, getting more and more excited. Then, I looked back at Marjan to see if she were alright.

I saw that she was limping! I quickly slowed down for her, and noticed that she had a twisted foot. She was a cripple! But, I thought to myself, we don’t need to make use of her foot. What we need is her stories. She was obviously ashamed of the foot, though. She tried to hide it.

I took her to my sister’s quarters. I went inside, but Marjan hung back. I told Shahrazad, “Sister! I have found you a girl who knows a story we haven’t told!” I was overjoyed.

“That’s impossible!” Shahrazad said. “Bring her in! Let’s see what she has for us.”

I went back out, surprised that Marjan hadn’t followed me. I told her to follow me. “Come!” I said. “She awaits you.”

When we entered, I urged her, “Tell her that story about the fish—the one you told the children.” Marjan told it—haltingly, at first, then slowly getting calmer. But then, my sister stopped her.

“I told this story a long time ago. Don’t you remember? It was one of the early ones.”

I sighed, hiding my dissapointment. I was wrong! She did not know a story we hadn’t told. Then, I cheered up with a new thought. I turned to Marjan. “You told me you knew more stories! Tell her another.”

So the poor little girl recounted story after story, only (to my bitter dissapointment) to be told again and again that the story had already been narrated to the Sultan. Then, as I heard Shahrazad stop her again, she leaned closer and said, “I haven’t heard this story before. I haven’t heard it!”

Allah be thanked! I thought. We have found another story!

And then, Shahrazad listened to the entire story, then retold it exactly as it was. So we were ready for tonight!

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

This night, when I was brought to the Sultan’s quarters for the telling of the story, I coudn’t control my joy. I sat down on their bed, as usual. Shahrazad began telling the story. Today, when so many of Marjan’s stories sounded like ones my sister has already told, I realized that we should have made sure to write each story down. But it is too late to begin now. Anyways, I have a strong hunch that this tale of Julnar the Mermaid that Marjan told us will certainly last us until Father comes back from his travels with Sharyar’s younger brother, Shah Zaman. And then Father will have brought back many books with new tales! It would all work out!

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Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze


Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis is a historical fiction novel about a Chinese boy who moves from the small country village of Tu-To to the city of Chungking. He is apprenticed to Tang, the most famous coppersmith in the city. He becomes a journeyman at Tang’s after three years, and during these years, Tang and Young Fu grow closer and closer—until Tang adopts him! Young Fu has many qualities that make sure he passes all of the challenges he must face in each chapter.

Young Fu’s biggest and best quality is luck. Everyone remarks that he must be a favorite of the gods, and whether it is because of his mother Fu Be Be’s constant offerings to the Goddess Kwan Yin’s shrine or that he was simply born lucky, Young Fu’s good luck is shown in every chapter. In the first chapter, he is lucky because he, of all the young boys in Tu-To, is chosen to go to Chungking and be apprenticed to Tang, the coppersmith. In the fifth chapter, he foolishly ends up owing a debt to a jeweller, but when he tries to earn money to repay the debt, even after the debt had been payed off, he had forty copper coins leftover for himself and his mother! In the sixth and ninth chapters, he proves that he can outsmart both the Fire Dragon and the Water Dragon. In the sixth chapter he saves the foreign hospital building from burning up in a fire, and in the ninth chapter he saves an old couple from getting washed away in a flood. And in the last chapter, the fourteenth chapter, Tang the Coppersmith adopts Young Fu as his own son.

Young Fu is also quick-thinking and witty. For example, in Chapter 6 he helps save the foreign hospital from the fire, and in doing so he thinks not of himself, but of the foreigners and their hospital. In Chapter 7, his best friend Small Li is hit by a severe attack of appendicitis. Young Fu thinks quickly. Li’s mother wants to call in the priests, but all they would actually do is torture him. He would die if left alone, and even more surely if the priests would come. After careful thinking, Young Fu calls in the foreign woman from the foreign hospital. It turns out to have been the best option, and Small Li recovers soon. In Chapter 9 he helps save an elderly couple from the flood, and he must think quickly to get the couple to a shelter (which would be the foreign hospital) using the safest possible route.

Furthermore, Young Fu is very respectful. He addresses all his elders with great respect and reverance. He reveres Wang Scholar, who lives in the apartment flat above him and teaches him to read and write, and he respects Fu Be Be as his mother. He is very polite and well mannered. He feels that he is indebted to Wang Scholar for teaching him to read and write for free. So, he and his mother repay the Scholar by Fu Be Be mending his clothes, sending him small gifts, and caring for the old man in instances such as Chapter 7, when Wang Scholar is sick. He feels very grateful and obligated when someone does him a favor. Additionally, he is very appreciative. Young Fu admires Tang, and he does not put on the attitude that “Oh, I work for Tang the Famous Coppersmith, so I am very great.” Instead, he feels grateful that Tang had chosen him.

Young Fu is also certainly brave. In Chapter 8, he saves Tang’s money from bandits. In Chapter 10, he saves Tang’s entire shop from three Communist Southerners who are looting Tang’s shop in the name of Communism, although they are actually only greedy and have a grudge against Tang. In Chapter 13, he saves Lu, the head welder, from going to jail unjustly and finds the real culprit that is smuggling opium and is pretending that Lu is the smuggler. These acts require real boldness.

Young Fu was also very sincere and hardworking. For example, before Chapter 14, Young Fu as a journeyman would constantly spend his time at Old Tsu’s, the head designer’s, side designing brasses. Then, in Chapter 14, Tang tells Young Fu to start working at the anvil welding brasses rather than just designing them. Young Fu is angry at first because the anvil is his least favorite place in the shop, but then he decides to show Tang that he can do welding just as well as designing. He works hard, with sincerity and dedication, and soon he finds that working at the anvil is not as difficult after all!

Young Fu is enterprising, as well. He knows how to think outside the box. For example, in Chapter 5 Young Fu escapes to his cousin’s farm outside Chungking because he cannot repay his debt on New Year’s Day, the day when all debts must be repaid. There, he hears his old aunt call snow “the wintery breath of the dragon.” Young Fu suddenly has an idea. He asks for two large baskets and fills them both with a heavy compact mass of snow. Then, he returns to Chungking and sells it there, marketing it as “Dragon’s Breath— Will Make Your New Year Lucky!” He earns three dollars and forty coppers. He uses the three dollars to repay his debt, and pockets the forty coppers for his mother and himself!

Young Fu is quick-thinking, brave, sincere and hardworking, enterprising, respectful and lucky, and these are the qualities which make him Young Fu. He couldn’t have one of them without the others. If he weren’t quick-thinking, brave, enterprising, respectful, sincere, and hardworking, he wouldn’t be lucky, either. Even though his luck is what everyone praises him for, there are all these other qualities that give him his luck. Only together do they create the amazing character brought to life by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis in her book. Even into the first few chapters it is easy enough to see that Young Fu stands out from the rest of the workers at Tang’s, and he is Tang’s favorite. The reason for this is his qualities mentioned above.

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Daughter of the Mountains




Daughter of the Mountains is a touching historical fiction by Lousie Rankins, set in the hills of Tibet and the gigantic Indian city of Calcutta. It is about a nine-year-old girl who comes down from her home in the Jelep La pass to get back her stolen dog, a red-gold Lhasa terrier named Pempa.


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For this beautiful work, I created a series of sculptures trying to bring a scene of the book to life. This scene is where little Momo is inside house of the English lady who owns Pempa now, and she has called him to her. The others are staring openmouthed at the little girl.

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Here on the left, Momo has been sculpted here holding her dog Pempa in her lap, grinning with a wide smile. Since I made Pempa the same color as Momo, it’s hard to see him very well, but you can make out his contrasting eyes and nose.Daughter of the Mountains IMG_3509


Here on the right I have the English Lady Paton, with her two durbaans, or doorkeepers. Gopal, who speaks Momo’s language is seated next to Lady Paton, and behind them is Gopal’s partner Ram. The object in front of these three sculptures is a mere design in the Great Hall, where this entire scene takes place.

Daughter of the Mountains IMG_3510

Finally, I have made here three other servants that work for Lady Paton and Sir Hugh, her husband.



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Where The Mountain Meets The Moon




Where The Mountain Meets The Moon is a enchanting fantasy fiction in the form of a Chinese folktale written and illustrated by Grace Lin. What I like best about this book is how the author has fitted so many other old small Chinese folktales into the main story of this book. In every other chapter, you can find another folktale. This is a story about how a girl sets off to bring her family fortune, rescues a dragon who becomes her traveling partner, and endures a series of adventures to ultimately return home with a dragon pearl. Grace Lin wrote this book to entertain us. I would say that the theme of this book is that anything can happen if you just believe, like Minli (the girl) did.


For this charming book, I (with my little brother) created a board game.FullSizeRender-2 It had a long row of spaces. All the spaces used good or bad fortune from the book, ultimately making the player roll again and move ahead, roll again and move back, or skip a turn. There were two tokens, Dragon and Minli. The object was to get from Fruitless Mountain, the tall mountain you see here, to Never-Ending Mountain, the abode of the Old Man of the Moon. I made Fruitless mountain and the Old Man of the Moon (who is sitting on top of the clouds) standing up, but then I also have further illustrations behind the track, namely: Minli setting off from from Fruitless Mountain, Monkeys in the Peach Grove, the Lion Gate and the King’s Garden in the City of Bright Moonlight, the Green Tiger in the Mountain Climb, and, finally, the twins Da-A-Fu in the Village of Moon Rain.

When we first played the game, we  were a little confused. This game can be 10 minutes long or 1 hour long (if you keep landing on the same spaces again and again)!





My Dragon character


My Minli Character















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The Kitchen Madonna

The Kitchen Madonna
is a touching work of realistic fiction by Rumer Godden. Written in 1967 and set in London, the protagonists of this book are nine-year-old Gregory and seven-year-old Janet Thomas, and the supporting characters are Marta, Madame Ginnete, and Mrs. Bartholomew. The theme of this book is how a quiet young boy strives to make an icon for a person he loves and, in doing so, opens up to those around him.

Marta, the Thomas’ new hired Ukrainian helper, is unhappy in this house and misses her own house. She tells Gregory that it is because his house has no ‘good place.’ By a good place, Marta means a shelf in the kitchen where there is a painting of the Mother and Child, except it is decorated with gold and rubies and amber. Gregory wants Marta to stay with his family, so he sets off on a quest to get Marta a Kitchen Madonna.

The following Saturday, Gregory goes with Janet to the British Museum to look at some icons. Dissapointingly, the icons are all faded paintings with little or no decorations. Luckily, a gentleman looking at the icons near them tells them about a jeweler called Rostov’s. They decide to go there. But today, it is already too late. They are in big trouble, not only because they are so late, but also because they have ventured so far away to the British Museum.

After a week, though, Gregory disobeys his parents again and does go to Rostov’s after all, with Janet tagging along behind him as usual. At Rostov’s, Gregory asks to look at the icons and finds one that he thinks Marta will like. But then Janet innocently says, “We have 30 shillings left over from bus fees. Is that enough to buy this icon?” Everyone laughs at Gregory and Janet. The icon costs 438 guineas! Gregory gets mad and embarrased, and they leave the shop.

It is raining outside, so Gregory and Janet stay for a while in a nearby church. There, they see a Madonna just the way Marta had described. Gregory realizes that he can make a Madonna for Marta.

One day, Janet goes up to Gregory’s room, the Loft, to speak to him. She has a plan. There was a painting of the Mother and Child in the newspaper a couple days ago. They can use that for their Madonna! Gregory cuts out the Madonna picture from the paper. He copies the Madonna outline onto a piece of stiff white paper. He then cuts out each shape—the Madonna, her robe, the Baby, the background, and everything else. These are his templates.

They now have to find pieces of cloth for the garments. They look in the ragbasket, but there is nothing there that will do. Then, two days later, Gregory visits his mother’s hatter, Madame Ginette. Now, this is a big deal for Gregory, who never speaks to anyone if he can help it. He tells her about the Madonna and asks her for some scraps for the Madonna. He gets them from Madame Ginette and puts them on the Madonna.

Now, Gregory needs a background. Since he is already using the frame of his ship picture, he decides to use the background as well because it has a sky color. He also gets some white lace and paints it gold, for the halos of the crowns. Now, he has to decide what to use for the border. The answer to this doesn’t come until, one day, Janet brings him a bag of toffees. The wrappers of some of them are shiny and metallic. Gregory has an idea. He goes to the candy store and talks to the candy lady, Mrs. Bartholomew. (Again, this is a very big thing for him, and it shows how he is getting more open with people.) He tells her about his project and asks her for some toffees, the ones with the shiny wrappers. He then glues the wrappers to make a border. His Madonna is ready!

He then tells his parents the entire story of the Madonna, beginning to end. His mother takes Marta away from the kitchen for a minute, while Gregory and Janet and Father hang the Madonna three inches above the small table in the corner of the kitchen and put some red velvet and white lace on the table to decorate it. On top, they put a vase and a red lamp. The Madonna is ready for Marta.

Mother comes down with Marta to show her Gregory’s Kitchen Madonna. Marta was so pleased with Gregory. And it’s no wonder, for the Kitchen Madonna was so amazingly made!


The lesson I learnt from this book is how much Gregory loved Marta to make this for her. If he had had enough money and bought the icon at Rostov’s, it would have been completely different. But he used his own effort and made it for Marta, and that requires a lot of love and dedication.

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The Winged Watchman

512zFFCE8ELThe Winged Watchman is a beautiful historical fiction by Hilda van Stockum. It is set during the Nazi occupation of Holland in World War II, in a small Dutch village called Saterwoude. The protagonists are two brothers, Dirk Jan (14) and Joris (10). The supporting characters are their parents, Uncle Cor (their uncle and a leader of the Resistance*), and Dirk Jan and Joris’ friends. The antagonists are the Nazis and the landwatchers. (Landwatchers were people who had turned traitor to their country and worked for the Nazis.) The theme of this story is how people struggled to survive World War II.

The book starts one day when Joris goes out to deliver a message for his mother. On the way, he finds two boys bullying a small puppy. Joris gets mad and drives them away. He then runs home with the small, frightened puppy in his hands. At home, Dirk Jan tells him that he knows the owners of the puppy—Hans and Habel de Wit. Joris convinces his father to try to buy the puppy from Hans and Habel’s parents. Mr. Verhagen manages to do just that, and the puppy, Freya, becomes Joris’ best friend and closest companion other than Dirk Jan.

A couple of days later, Joris and Dirk Jan go to buy some milk. On their way back, they see a young girl, about the same age as Dirk Jan, lying unconsious on the ground. Joris quickly goes and calls the local doctor, Dr. de Vries. It just so happens that the young girl, Reina, is the doctor’s niece. She has a satchel full of newspapers forbidden by the Nazis. She, in fact, works for the Underground (the Resistance).

One day Joris and his friend Hendrick Schenderhans see four aviators parachuting down from an English bomber that had been shot. Three of them seek cover in Mr. Poot’s barn. Mr. Poot is a close friend of the Verhagens’, and his son Ernst is one of Dirk Jan’s classmates. When the Germans find out that three aviators are hiding with the Poots, they arrest the aviators and send Mr. Poot and Ernst to the Vught concentration camp. But Joris is the only one who remembers seeing four aviators, not just three, or so he thinks.

That evening, Joris goes to gather mushrooms for his mother. He strays off to the old, dead mill that belongs to the Schenderhans. Wanting to explore it, he climbs up to the top. There is a large pressbed there. Joris looks under it to see if anything is in there. Joris expects a pile of dust, or perhaps some old items of no use now. But what he certainly doesn’t expect is a boy staring at him from underneath the bed!

The boy tells him, using sign language, that his name is Charles. He is the fourth English aviator, the one who escaped from the Germans. Joris tells Charles, still using sign language, that he will go and bring Charles some food. Joris then leaves the mill. That night, he comes back with the food. But surprisingly, Dirk Jan follows him, and learns of Joris’ secret! Dirk Jan and Joris later bring new clothes for Charles. Uncle Cor happens to be visiting the Verhagens, so he and Charles take up disguises and convince Leendert Schenderhans, a landwatcher, to give them a ride to Leyden. Charles manages to escape with their help.

After this, the Verhagens start housing even more escaped people, this time permanently. When Uncle Cor returns, he tells the Verhagens to house two little girls, Koba and Betsy. Koba and Betsy become almost like part of the family. Then, after Christmas, Dirk Jan is sent on a mission by Uncle Cor. Dirk Jan must first go to Gerardus van Manen, one of Uncle Cor’s friends. He must deliver a message there. Mr. Manen will either say “yes” or “no.” Dirk Jan does just that. Mr. Manen says, “yes.” Uncle Cor had told Dirk Jan that if Mr. Manen said yes, he was to go to the Falcon, another windmill. There, he would meet Mr. van Loo. He must give the password, “Old Rhine and green cabbage” and tell him that his uncle of the garage had a happy event of the family and wants to have the mill put into joy. That is what Dirk Jan does. He gets a ride home the next day in Mr. Garret’s truck. On the way, he sees a German tank exploding. Prisoners run out. One gets into Mr. Garret’s truck. He and Dirk Jan start a conversation during the rest of the truck ride. They decide that the young man, who calls himself Hildebrand, can stay with the Verhagens. And so Hildebrand comes to stay in the Verhagens’ house.

Because Dirk Jan succesfully completes his mission, the weapon-dropping can take place. Hope of peace is spreading over the country. Everyone is sure that Holland is going to be liberated soon. And on May 5, 1945, peace and joy returns to Holland! Hildebrand, Koba, and Betsy safely return to their homes. Mr. Poot and Ernst return to Saterwoude. Everything is wondeful in Holland, once again.

The lesson I learnt from this book is to never give up. No matter what hardships they faced, all the characters of this book did all they could for their country, and for the Allies to win.


* The Resistance was a group of brave people who did all they could to fight the Nazis.

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A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt

10403659._UY200_A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt, a heartwarming work of historical fiction by C. Coco De Young, is set during the Great Depression in 1933, on Maple Avenue in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The main characters are two siblings, Charlie and Margo Bandini. This book is based on a true story. The author’s father played the same role that Charlie plays in this book, the author’s aunt (her father’s sister) played the same role that Margo plays in this book, and Grandfather Coco (the author’s grandfather) played the same role as Papa in this book. The supporting characters are Papa, Mama, Rosa, Michael, Ms. Dobson (Margo’s teacher), and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The antagonist is the Great Depression itself.

In 1929, when the book starts, Rosa and Michael are Charlie and Margo’s next-door neighboors, and also siblings. Rosa is Margo’s friend and Michael is Charlie’s friend. One day, Charlie injures his knee badly while trying to break up a fight in his class. When the doctor visits him, he knows that the best thing to do is to amputate the leg. But Charlie and Margo’s parents do not allow that to happen. They look desperately for a doctor who could cure Charlie without amputating his leg. And they find one in Boston, Massachusetts. But the cost is $5,000. They manage to pay it, though. And Charlie gets well again.

The book then skips four years to 1933, when Charlie turns nine and Margo turns eleven. One Saturday evening, when Papa comes back from work with Charlie, Papa and Mama are both unusually quiet at dinner. So is Charlie. Margo cannot understand why everyone is acting like this. Then later, Charlie tells her the bad news: When Charlie was in his Father’s shoe shop, he happened to see an important paper of his father’s. It was a paper for a loan. Papa had taken a $5,000 loan to pay Charlie’s doctor’s fees. He had listed his house, his shoe shop, and everything else he owned as the collateral. Now, he can’t pay back the loan, so they will lose their house! It will be on Sheriff Sale.

Margo wants to help. And then she has an idea. Her assignment in school over the weekend is to write a letter to any person who she thinks is inspiring to her. She wants to find a way to save her house. So, she decides to write to someone who will, and can, help: First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Margo writes her letter. She then submits it to her teacher, Ms. Dobson, who tells Margo that she will mail the letter for her. A few days later, when Margo comes back from school, she sees that the sheriff and the banker have arrived at her house. They have come to force Margo and her famiy out of their house. Margo has been anxiously waiting for a reply all these days, but there has been none. Now it is too late. Or is it?

The lesson I learnt from this book is to be brave and to never give up. What is inspiring in this book is that a young child saves the day, not an adult.

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