Friday, January 23, 2015

Summoning the Phoenix: Review #ReadYourWorld

I am so excited to be one of the bloggers and book reviewers for the upcoming Multicultural Children's Book Day #ReadYourWorld on Jan. 27th! This week I will be reviewing and sharing several incredible multicultural books from participating publisher Lee & Low. (Please click on the image above or scroll down to the bottom of the post for more information about Multicultural Children's Book Day, including sponsors and hosts.)

Review: Summoning the Phoenix

Summoning the Phoenix: poems and prose about Chinese musical instruments (published in 2013 by Shen's books, an imprint of Lee & Low) is written by Emily Jiang and illustrated by April Chu. It was recognized as one of the Best Children's Books of 2014 by Kirkus Reviews and was the recipient of a Eureka! Honor Award from the California Reading Association for excellence in nonfiction.

Summoning the Phoenix is a sumptuous book that pairs poems and nonfiction information with excellent illustrations of children playing the featured instruments. Each two-page spread features a range of illustrations from individual panels to full two-page scenes that correspond beautifully to the information provided in the poems and text boxes. Some of the illustrations are highly imaginative, while others are more functional, but all convey a strong love and appreciation for the instruments and the music. Although the focus of the book is on Chinese instruments, the children represented feature a wide-range of ages and ethnicities to highlight the worldwide appeal of music.

The free verse poems in this book convey the feelings and experiences of the young musicians. Some focus on the practicalities (late for your first day!) while others are more whimsical (the titular summoning of the phoenix). The first person point-of-view makes an immediate connection with the reader, allowing children to see themselves in these poems and playing these instruments.

The nonfiction text boxes provide descriptive and historical information about the instrument. Some include legends or historical dates for the instrument. Many provide details about the materials and construction of the instrument, as well as any other variants.

The final poems serve to unite the whole series by joining all of the instruments together in a concert (hinted at in the opening illustration). I really appreciated the last two poems, "Packing for Performance" and "Being Backstage," as they honor the excitement and emotions common to young performers. Any child who has performed in front of an audience before will understand and relate to these poems. Kids will also enjoy finding and identifying the different children and instruments from the previous pages in their dressy outfits.

I strongly recommend this book and can see it appealing to a wide-range of readers and purposes. Music teachers could use this book to introduce students to these instruments. English teachers could use this book to encourage students to write their own poems about instruments or performing. Children with an interest in music, history, performance, or China will all be fascinated by this book.


  • Read an insightful interview with Emily Jiang here where she discusses the importance of revision and how it helped her shape and reshape her poems and her book.

Activity: Music Appreciation and Creation

Music and music-making is universal. There are hints on author Emily Jiang's web site about a forthcoming CD featuring each of these instruments to accompany the book. Until its release, however, we will have to content ourselves with finding out own examples.

There are many YouTube videos featuring these incredible instruments. Below is one of a girl playing the traditional song, "Happy Birthday," on her dizi.

In this video below, you can see and hear many of the different instruments featured in the book. How many can you find? (Answer just below.)

(In approximate order of appearance: the erhu, yangqin, ruan, dizi, guzheng, paigu, and the pipa. If you look carefully, you may also notice the sheng, luo, and perhaps others.)

You can also take it one step farther and create your own instruments:

  • Create a ruan or a pipa out of cardboard by following these directions (scroll to the bottom) for cardboard guitars. Just change your basic silhouette shape to match.

About Multicultural Children's Book Day

Our mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.

Mission: Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, co-founders Mia (Pragmatic Mom) and Valarie (Jump into a Book) are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.

In their words: "MCCBD team hopes to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky, and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media."

You can get involved! MCCBD is partnering with First Book to offer a Virtual Book Drive that will help donate multicultural children’s books through their channels during the week of the event. Help get diversity books into the hands of kids who most need them! The Virtual Book Drive is LIVE and can be found HERE.

Finally, a huge thank you to all the sponsors of this wonderful event: Platinum Sponsors: Wisdom Tales Press, Daybreak Press Global BookshopGold SponsorsSatya HouseMulticulturalKids.comAuthor Stephen Hodges and the Magic PoofSilver SponsorsJunior Library GuildCapstone PublishingLee and Low BooksThe Omnibus PublishingBronze Sponsors: Double Dutch DollsBliss Group BooksSnuggle with Picture Books PublishingRainbow BooksAuthor Felicia CapersChronicle BooksMuslim Writers PublishingEast West Discovery Press.


There are also nine co-hosts: Africa to AmericaAll Done MonkeyThe Educators’ Spin on ItGrowing Book by BookInCultural ParentKid World CitizenMama SmilesMulticultural Kid Blogs, and Sprout’s Bookshelf along with the two founders: Mia (Pragmatic Mom) and Valarie (Jump into a Book).

MCCBD is collaborating with Children’s Book Council to highlight wonderful diversity books and authors on an ongoing basis all year. Thank you all for your contributions and support!


  1. I'm so glad that you enjoyed this book about Chinese musical instruments by way of poetry! I think it's a beautiful book too! Thank you also for joining us for Multicultural Children's Book Day!

    1. Thanks, Mia! I really hope they do put out the companion CD to the book, as I know kids would get so much out of hearing and seeing the instruments played too. Thank you so much for the opportunity to join in MCCBD!

  2. New to your site, but I'll be back for sure! This looks like a gorgeous book and I appreciate all the extras you included in your review. Thanks for supporting Multicultural Children's Book Day with such a terrific review!

    1. Thanks so much, Mary! It is a wonderful book, and it was fun finding activities and videos to go along. I am so excited to be a part of this wonderful event, and my students were delighted with the new books!


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