Category Archives: Book Reviews

Make 2014 your Year of the Strong Woman


It’s New Year’s Eve in Times Square, and who’s that woman with the big grin leading millions of Americans into 2014?  It’s Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with a commanding view of her hometown and her hand firmly on that all-important crystal button.

Why did organizers choose Justice Sotomayor?  To put it simply, she is an inspiration.  From humble beginnings, she graduated from Princeton and then Yale Law School.  Her law career went from strength to strength, and she rose through the ranks to become the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice and only the third woman to serve there.

What a great choice of person to bring us into the new year with a bang!  Organizers could have nominated someone like Miley Cyrus, who was performing in Times Square that night as well, but instead went with a hard-working, fearless, intelligent Hispanic woman who is a wonderful example to both boys and girls everywhere.

When Sotomayor pressed that crystal button, it was a call to us all to make 2014 our Year of the Strong Woman.

Of course as parents, caregivers, and teachers, we are always looking for ways to support and encourage our girls to grow into women as amazing as Sotomayor, and show our boys that women should be equally valued members of society. Reading about strong female characters in books is an excellent way to bring these ideas into the home and classroom.

There are a number of excellent bilingual books that feature interesting and feisty female protagonists that will appeal to all children.  Take a look at…

Yeh-Hsien: A Chinese Cinderella

Cinderella’s story is a classic one.  However the Cinderella you know from the movies is meek and passive, while the Chinese Cinderella is a much “stronger character”, according to reviewer Maureen Barlow Pugh.  She describes how our “kind and clever” heroine makes the decision herself to go to the Spring Festival through which she eventually marries the King, and “makes it happen because she is ‘so determined’.”  This Cinderella doesn’t sit around and wait for things to happen to her!  What a great example for little girls who want to grow up to be princesses.  You could use this as a talking point, too: maybe being a princess wouldn’t be nearly as fulfilling as being a lawyer, or a doctor, or a professor, or a chemical engineer!

Jill and the Beanstalk

Manju Gregory’s retelling of the well-loved Jack and the Beanstalk really puts girls in their place – right on top!  This fairytale female even makes Jack envious of her beanstalk-climbing prowess.  It will be fun and useful for all children to see a girl in the traditional role of the warrior who takes on the giant…and wins.

 Little Red Hen and the Grains of Wheat

This timeless tale is a perfect example of how our culture already has awesome females embedded into its folklore.  Little ones will love the witty illustrations, but will also see how hard the hen works, and how tenacious she is — and how she creates a loaf of bread to be proud of all on her own!  This version of the tale won the UK National Literary Association’s Wow! Award in 2006, and you can use it in your home or classroom to reinforce the idea that all people, regardless of gender, can be successful and contribute to their community through hard work.

The Wild Washerwomen

Sometimes the roles that society stereotypically imposes upon women get to be just too much to bear, and that’s exactly what happens in this story illustrated by Quentin Blake.  Seven put-upon and strong-willed washerwomen throw off the shackles of their miserable existence and decide to have some fun for once!  The Wild Washerwomen effectively undermines the idea that girls are made to do “women’s work”.  It shows that we do have the choice to leave the dirty socks to someone else (maybe some washermen?) — and that we might even find love if we do!  Encourage your girls to let their hair down and go a bit wild with this adorable romp.

Mamy Wata and the Monster
Mamy (or Mami) Wata is an ancient river spirit revered in large parts of Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.  Her many followers perform rituals where they dance themselves into a trance.   She is a beautiful, complex water queen, known to be able to grant either fortune or bad luck.

In Mamy Wata and the Monster, one of the 100 Best African Books of the century, our protagonist confronts a supposedly fearful monster living in a cave, and manages to help him change his ways.

Mamy Wata displays many qualities we want our girls (and boys!) to aspire to: she is caring and kind, while also fearless and proactive.  She deals with tricky situations delicately and fosters a sense of community around her.  She is generous and brave.  She is, quite simply, a great role model in this fable.

Look out for more about Mamy Wata in a later post!



It’s so important that we raise the young women in our lives to be confident, motivated and ready to take on any challenge.  The books they read as children will play a huge part in helping them to develop these qualities, not to mention the fact that learning another language early on will give them a leg up academically and socially!  Give your girls the gift of self-esteem: show her books where women rule!

From Hiccups to Tuk-Tuks: Our Selection of Culturally Appropriate Bilingual Children’s Books

cover photo

photo credits: Farah Aria @ flickr. com, Anir Pandit @ flickr. com, Jensen Chua @ flickr. com

Picture this: you’ve recently moved to a new country where you are just learning the language, and you are feeling a bit overwhelmed and lost. One day, a colleague approaches you with something she thinks will remind you of home. It’s a book in English, and it’s all about “American culture”! Excited (and homesick), you open the book and read a sweet story all about a boy in a sparkly, perfect suburb who eats too many hamburgers, gets sick, and has to miss his friend’s pool party.

You sigh and smile at the well-meaning colleague. But you are from Detroit, and none of your friends had pools when you were growing up. Plus, you’re a vegetarian. It was a nice gesture, but this book doesn’t reflect America to you – it has nothing to do with your culture.

In the same way, as educators and parents, we want to ensure that the books we’re choosing for the children in our care are culturally appropriate, and don’t simply present stereotypes. These books, suggests an article from the National Center for Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness, must “provide authentic representations of the culture” and should avoid illustrations and plots that “make certain groups seem foolish or disrespected.”

Whether we pick bilingual books because we teach Dual Language Learners or because we want our sons and daughters to grow up with an academic advantage, they must be “culturally accurate books…that respectfully represent…cultures, objects, and themes”, according to the NCCLR.

Which books to choose?

The NCCLR specifically recommends some of the books from our site, like Grandma’s Saturday Soup, by Sally Fraser, and Handa’s Surprise, by Eileen Browne. We at Language Lizard would like to introduce you to a whole range of our other books that also fit the culturally appropriate bill.

Holidays and Celebrations


Books about holidays provide a useful access point for children of every culture– we all celebrate something! Our selection includes several holiday-themed stories which will not only feel familiar to the children from whose cultures they come, but will be fun and interesting for everyone who reads them.

  • Deepak’s Diwali (by Divya Karwal) is one that has also been recommended by the NCCLR. We like it especially for its contemporary depiction of the holiday. This book stands out in the way it welcomes children who don’t yet know about Diwali with wonderful explanations and illustrations and even a section of fun recipes. Yet it still shows its characters in their everyday clothes and mundane situations, meticulously avoiding the characterisation of those who celebrate Diwali as “other”.
  • In the same vein, we’d recommend Samira’s Eid by Nasreen Aktar: its story, which unfolds from the dialogue between two children and their parents, is simple and educational, and therefore appropriate for young children who are only just coming into contact with our country’s growing Muslim population, yet it remains recognizable and enjoyable for those who already mark the festival of Eid.
  • Children of Chinese heritage will relate to Li’s Chinese New Year. Again, this portrayal of the holiday avoids stereotypes. Readers will follow a sweet storyline about a little boy deciding which animal of the zodiac he wants to be in the school play (a great access point for school age children!). Fang Wang’s tale makes a new holiday feel accessible and non-threatening for children just learning about new cultures and their practices.

Familiar Topics

tuk tuk

Another way to bring cultural sensitivity into the bilingual books you select is to find those which deal with ordinary, familiar activities and topics that virtually all children will recognize, but from the perspectives of different cultures.

  • Brilliant books like The Wibbly Wobbly Tooth and Mei Ling’s Hiccups, both by David Mills, show in sensitive detail the way children from diverse backgrounds respond to everyday problems. What should Li do with the tooth he’s just lost? How should Mei Ling get rid of her hiccups? The children’s classmates, who all represent different cultures, offer up the traditional solutions their families would use in these situations, from throwing a tooth on the roof to holding your nose and counting to five.
  • In the same vein, Welcome to the World, Baby, by Na’ima bint Robert, gives young readers a sensory tour of the different traditions people from all over the world have for celebrating a birth. The students in the story touch, smell, and listen to objects that represent these cultural traditions, bringing the topic alive for the audience.
  • Our selection of titles from the “Our Lives, Our World” series shows children how people eat, travel, and play in different countries: Yum! Let’s Eat! (Thando Maclaren); Brrmm! Let’s Go! (Julie Kingdon); and Goal! Let’s Play (Joe Marriott). Kids reading these books will be able to make connections between their lunchtime sandwiches and the fajitas Gabriella’s Mexican family makes; between the bikes they ride and Niran’s uncle’s tuk-tuk in Thailand; and between the baseball they watch with their parents and the fun game of cricket Nitesh plays in India. While refusing to resort to stereotypes, all of these books will support young readers in recognizing the amazing and diverse traditions and beliefs all around them while also providing a sense of familiarity. As they grow and learn to categorize, children often begin to perceive a divide between themselves and those who do not look like them: these stories will help bridge that gap.

Common Experiences

Of course, if we want our children and students to grow up appreciating and enjoying the diverse society in which they live, we’re going to want to choose books for them which show people of all different races participating in the experiences which so many children go through, like visits to the doctor, dentist appointments, and the first day of school.

  • Dealing with a big step in every child’s life, Tom and Sofia Start School (Henriette Barkow) not only reassures little ones as they embark on this important journey, but depicts a classroom and school full of children from many different backgrounds playing together and making Tom and Sofia’s experience less scary.
  • Sahir Goes to the Dentist and Nita Goes to the Hospital, both illustrated with unique plasticine figures by Chris Petty, use non-white characters to depict stories about these common “firsts” to put children of all colors at ease. Books like these send the culturally sensitive message that even though we may look different, we all live in one society together and experience life in many of the same ways. Any differences we may have just make life that much more interesting and exciting!

The fact that all of our recommended books are available in English with a range of different languages serves to reinforce the cultural appropriateness displayed by each story’s characters and themes. And, as the NCCLR asserts, these bilingual books “can be very helpful”, especially if the stories are unfamiliar to you when you first read them with your children or students. Choosing the right bilingual books for your readers – books that are authentic, respectful, and well-translated – will make a huge difference to the children reading them. Culturally appropriate stories will make all children feel valued, and will give them the foundations to become interested, informed global citizens.



How Big is Your Daddy? Book Review of My Daddy is a GIANT

Buy My Daddy Is A Giant Today!

Book Review: My Daddy is a Giant
Written by Carl Norac
Illustrated by Ingrid Godon
Ages 1-5
Available in paperback and hard cover, depending on the language
Review by Maureen Pugh

The first thing I noticed about My Daddy is a Giant was its dimensions (8 ½ inches wide by 12 inches tall) and its sturdy cover and quality binding. The vertical format and large pages provide an ample backdrop for the illustrator to portray a little boy and his playful, larger-than-life father. The simple, yet boldly-drawn illustrations depict a sweet, loving relationship between father and son.

Everything about this book is big – from the sizeable type to the exaggerated perception this small child has of his father. After all, even the tired clouds sleep on his daddy’s shoulders! And when his daddy sneezes, “it blows the sea away.”

This daddy runs and plays hide-and-seek, and can “kick the ball as high as the moon.” Yet he also can be beaten at marbles as “his fingers are far too big.” The story conveys the absolute trust this little boy has that his daddy will keep him safe and that his daddy loves him with “all his giant heart.”

As a reader, I was charmed, and reminded of how I viewed my own father when I was very young – he was a giant!

If you’re interested in purchasing this book, please visit the My Daddy is a Giant webpage at:

To see the difficulty level of these and other Language Lizard books, please visit our “Book Suggestions” page at

Multicultural Gift Ideas

The holidays are right around the corner. For many of us, the most difficult part of this busy time of year is figuring out the perfect gift for friends and loved ones. For those of you looking for bilingual and multicultural products, we have put together a list of some customer favorites that make perfect holiday gifts for young language learners, multicultural children, or a special teacher.

Board Books

These heavy-duty bilingual books are perfect for babies and toddlers, giving parents the chance to encourage bilingualism at an early age. Here is a list of some board books that babies and parents are sure to enjoy:

Continue reading Multicultural Gift Ideas

Goose Fables (The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg)

Goose Fables (The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg)

This book comprises two fables: Aesop’s The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg, and the Buddhist tale The Tortoise and the Geese.

In The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg, a foolish hunter captures a goose. When the creature lays a curious-looking egg, he doesn’t know what to do! He brings the egg to a friend in town who recognizes that it is, in fact, a golden egg. The hunter is able to sell the eggs, and begins to lead a life of luxury. Sadly, “like many people, the huntsman wasn’t happy with what he had” and he decides to cut open the goose to get all the eggs at once. His greed is his downfall.

In the second fable The Tortoise and the Geese, tortoise just won’t stop talking. Eventually the other animals can’t stand it and leave him to talk to himself. One autumn, two geese come to his pond and befriend him. When it is time for them to fly home, tortoise begs to accompany them. He has devised a way for them to carry him. The geese have to hold a piece of wood and tortoise must hang onto it with his mouth. The only catch is: he can’t talk! Needless to say, he cannot resist and falls from the sky, only to land on a leafy bush and almost on hare. Tortoise apologizes to hare and admits that sometimes he talks without thinking – tortoise has learned his lesson.  Continue reading Goose Fables (The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg)

Multicultural and Language-Learning Gifts: Our Top Tips for Holiday Gift-Giving

Twinkling lights, fires in the fireplace, and the smell of fresh pine needles – the holidays are upon us! For many, the most difficult part of this time of year is figuring out the perfect gift for friends and loved ones.

For those of you looking for bilingual and multicultural products, we have put together a list of some favorites which would make perfect holiday gifts for young language learners, multicultural children and a special teacher. Let us know if you can’t find what you are looking for. We are more than happy to help.

Continue reading Multicultural and Language-Learning Gifts: Our Top Tips for Holiday Gift-Giving

Bilingual Book Review: Marek and Alice’s Christmas

Marek and Alice’s Christmas
Written by Jolanta Starek-Corile
Illustrated by Priscilla Lamont
Ages 3-8
Review by Maureen Pugh

This brightly illustrated book is part of our celebration series, which explores the way people celebrate different festivals around the world. In the story, Marek, his sister Alice, and their parents are visiting their extended family including their babcia (grandmother), dziadek (grandfather) and prababcia (great-grandmother) in Poland. All are involved in preparing for the big Christmas celebration and Marek is full of questions. Why does prababcia put hay under the table? Why does she set an extra place at the table? Why do they look for the first star of the night before they begin their feast? Continue reading Bilingual Book Review: Marek and Alice’s Christmas

Bilingual Book Review: The “Our Lives, Our World” Series

In continuation of our celebration of The Bilingual Child Month, we’d like to share with you a review of three bilingual books that explore and celebrate global diversity. Read these books with your students to help them appreciate children just like them from around the world.

Goal! Let’s Play! – written by Joe Marriott and illustrated by Algy Craig Hall
Yum! Let’s Eat! – written by Thando Maclaren and illustrated by Jacqueline East
Brrmm! Let’s Go! – written by Julie Kingdon and illustrated by Leo Broadley
Paperback Ages 2-6
Review by Maureen Pugh

These three books comprise the “Our Lives, Our World” series, which explores the rich diversity of children’s lives and develops a worldwide perspective. Although the books are written and illustrated by different people, the series does have a cohesive style.

Each book introduces eleven children from eleven different countries, and every child is given a two page spread that introduces the child, and illustrates what the child is describing. The children are introduced with “my name’s Charlie …” or “I’m Abeba…”, so the text repeats the introductory phrases that we all want our children to be familiar with.

The text goes on with simple sentences, which contain mostly commonly-used vocabulary (and some new vocabulary), such as “I’m Khaled. We eat couscous and lamb tagine when we visit Grandpa.” Another example is “My name’s James, I play tennis with my family every weekend.”

Not surprisingly, Brrmm! Let’s Go! focuses on vehicles (bicycle, helicopter, tuk-tuk) and action verbs (to ride, to fly), while Goal! Let’s Play! introduces popular sports played in the country (ie, India – cricket, and Switzerland – skiing). Yum! Let’s Eat! depicts favorite foods from around the world.

Continue reading Bilingual Book Review: The “Our Lives, Our World” Series

Bilingual Book Review: Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Illustrated by Annie Kubler
Ages 0-3
Review by Maureen Pugh

This sturdy, oversized (it runs a little over 8 inches square) board book brings the classic song to life with a couple of giggle-producing twists – at least they made my 5-year old giggle!

The text runs through the classic poem three times, changing the ending the second and third times through. Toddlers will love the last verse, which has the reader row the boat to the “shore,” and then ends with ”if you see a lion, don’t forget to roar!”

Although this book is targeted to the under-three crowd, personally I have found that dual language board books have served me well beyond the toddler years. The repetition helps reinforce the language skills I am trying to teach, and sometimes it is nice to have a shorter book to read.

Continue reading Bilingual Book Review: Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Bilingual Book Review: Lion Fables

Lion Fables
Written and illustrated by Jan Ormerod
Ages 4-9
Review by Maureen Pugh

This book contains both the Aesop’s fable The Lion and the Mouse, as well as the Malaysian fable The Hare’s Revenge. The stories are retold and illustrated by award-willing author and illustrator Jan Ormerod. The Lion and the Mouse tells the familiar tale of a little mouse, who captured by the self-acclaimed “King of the Beasts,” bargains for his life with an offer of friendship and aid should the lion ever have need of him. Amused by the offer, the lion lets the mouse go, never thinking he actually will need the aid of such a small creature. Yet in only a matter of days, the lion is captured in a hunter’s net. The mouse sets the lion free by nibbling the rope in two, and the lion is humbled and grateful. Continue reading Bilingual Book Review: Lion Fables