Open Wide the World

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Open Wide the World Through Books: May 2018 Edition

One of our family goals for 2018 is to read books together on world cultures and history. After reading a book, we're following inspiration wherever it leads: a nearby restaurant (February), a study of bananas (March), or even an instagram search (last month).

Learn more about the origin of this series here or jump right in with this month's pick for "Open Wide the World through Books!"

 
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Listen, Slowly

by Thanhha Lai, author of the National Book Award–winning and Newbery Honor Book Inside Out & Back Again

Harper Collins Publishers, 2016

The publisher says:

A California girl born and raised, Mai can’t wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War.

Mai’s parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture. But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own.

Listen, Slowly is an irresistibly charming and emotionally poignant tale about a girl who discovers that home and culture, family and friends, can all mean different things.

We say:

Julie: Watching Mai journey through her heritage culture was anthropologically fascinating; even moreso for having watched Homer and Mag do the same with their Philippine heritage.

Homer: Wow. I could really relate to this book. I left Philippines as a child, so I feel like I am part Ba (the grandmother) and part Mai (the main character). 

My first return to Philippines was a mix of the two characters' experiences. I didn't want to go back; my life wasn't there anymore, similar to Mai. And yet, I needed to go back, to reconnect and find closure, like Ba. This was a meaningful book for me. 

Mag: I felt good that we read this book because I liked learning about the culture of Vietnam. And I've experienced some of the stuff in Philippines that they do in Vietnam. That helped me understand the book more.


Our family's rating (on a scale of 1-10): 10

Families with tweens or teens who enjoy cultural exposure will definitely appreciate this book.

And multicultural families will find even deeper appreciation, in that we all experience some version of what Mai and Ba dealt with in this tale; not just in our own life but also in watching our spouse and children bridge gaps and make connections between cultures. A very relatable storyline!


Extension Activity

Food comes up a lot in this book. It is used to show the progression of Mai's acceptance of her family heritage, as well as to share the Vietnamese culture with the reader. So we chose to visit a Vietnamese restaurant to experience some of the cuisine we read about in Listen, Slowly.

We visited Phở Ha in Glendale Heights, where we enjoyed phở tái (rice noodles and thin-sliced beef in broth).

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And if you're tempted to make the Vietnamese food experience even more interactive, check out these recipes from two of my favorite multicultural family bloggers:


Has your family read any great cultural or historical books?

Give us your recommendations in the comments below!

 

Do your younger children want to participate, too? 

They will love this beautifully illustrated picture book on a related topic of a boy connecting with his Vietnamese grandfather.