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5 Living Books about 20th Century History in South-East Asia


Looking for books for your homeschoolers or students to read about history in South-East Asia? Here are 5 recommendations:


1. Shipwrecked!: The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy by Rhoda Blumberg


From Goodreads, "Any person who leaves the country to go to another and later returns will be put to death. This was the law in Japan in the early 1800s. When fourteen-year-old Manjiro, working on a fishing boat to help support his family, was shipwrecked three hundred miles away from his homeland, he was heartbroken to think that he would never again be able to go home. So when an American whaling boat rescued him, Manjiro decided to do what no other Japanese person had ever done: He went to America, where he received an education and took part in events that eventually made him a hero in the Land of the Rising Sun." Large book with full color pages. Great for 8-12 years.


2. Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine


From Goodreads, "Nine-year-old Ling is very comfortable in her life; her parents are both dedicated surgeons in the best hospital in Wuhan. But when Comrade Li, one of Mao's political officers, moves into a room in their apartment, Ling begins to witness the gradual disintegration of her world. In an atmosphere of increasing mistrust, Ling fears for the safety of her neighbors and, soon, for herself and family. Over the course of four years, Ling manages to grow and blossom, even as she suffers more horrors than many people face in a lifetime."


Novel format with 278 pages. Recommended for 10-15 age group.


3. So Far from the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima


From Amazon, "In the final days of World War II, Koreans were determined to take back control of their country from the Japanese and end the suffering caused by the Japanese occupation. As an eleven-year-old girl living with her Japanese family in northern Korea, Yoko is suddenly fleeing for her life with her mother and older sister, Ko, trying to escape to Japan, a country Yoko hardly knows.

Their journey is terrifying—and remarkable. It's a true story of courage and survival that highlights the plight of individual people in wartime. In the midst of suffering, acts of kindness, as exemplified by a family of Koreans who risk their own lives to help Yoko's brother, are inspiring reminders of the strength and resilience of the human spirit."


Novel format with 182 pages. Recommended for ages 12-16 years.


4. Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin


From Amazon, "The extraordinary memoir of a peasant boy raised in rural Maoist China who was plucked from his village to study ballet and went on to become one of the greatest dancers of his generation. 


From a desperately poor village in northeast China, at age eleven, Li Cunxin was chosen by Madame Mao's cultural delegates to be taken from his rural home and brought to Beijing, where he would study ballet. In 1979, the young dancer arrived in Texas as part of a cultural exchange, only to fall in love with America-and with an American woman. Two years later, through a series of events worthy of the most exciting cloak-and-dagger fiction, he defected to the United States, where he quickly became known as one of the greatest ballet dancers in the world. This is his story, told in his own inimitable voice."


For senior students (there is a youth edition available), 480 pages.


5. Little Things by Prajuab Thirabutana


From Goodreads "Little Things is the story of village life in north-east Thailand. It is told by a young girl, Sumlarn Meesin, as she grows from childhood to maturity... Prajuab Thirabutana, the youngest of ten children, has spend most of her life in north-east Thailand. She is unmarried, but, like many single Thai women, she has adopted a child and lives in the provincial capital of Ubon, near the Cambodian border."


For age 8-12, 160 pages.



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