Ms. Ila’s Middle Grade Reading Club: While I Was Away by Waka Takahashi Brown

What would you do if your parents decided to send you to another country, just as summer vacation is about to start?

  • Would you think, "Great, I get to go on an adventure!"
  • Would you think, "I think I need a change of scene."
  • What would you think if the country you went to didn't have summer vacation?
  • What if no one spoke in English?
  • What if you felt perfectly happy where you are and don't want to leave?

Waka, the main character in Waka Takahashi Brown's While I Was Away doesn't like her parents' idea at all!  She'd have to give up summer with her best friends and return in October, after school had already started.

Worst of all, she'd be learning in a different language.  Her A+ skills in English would not help her very much in Japan!

While I Was Away may sound like it is in the autobiography genre because the main character shares the same name as the author, but the author says that the book is a work of fiction.  I would say that this book falls in the genre of ethnic fiction.

Do You Know A Lot About Your Parents' Language?

When you are at home, your parents may speak their native language to you, but you may not know a lot about how to write your ethnic language, like Waka.  They may even send you to that country for short vacations during the summer.

There weren't any language schools where Waka lived, so Waka's experiences with her ethnic culture were through annual summer visits.

There are three different forms of writing in Japanese: hiragana, katakana, and kanji.  The first two forms of writing are much like our ABC's.  However, the third form is based on Chinese characters.  In other words, the first two forms can spell out words.  The third form is a character that may mean an entire word!  Wow!

Waka has problems learning her kanji, as she is many years behind her Japanese classmates.

Luckily the library has these eresources for you to improve your language skills!

I'd Like to Know More About My Culture

Every day, you are learning all about American culture through school, social media, and television.  However, you can also learn more about your culture through a few of the Library's eResources:

Waka's story takes place during the 1980's, when this kind of information was unavailable, since people did not have access to the Internet.

Now, you can find out this information before you even get there!

Questions to Think About

  • What would you do to fit in if you are living with someone who is hard to get to know?
  • How would you keep in touch with your friends back home?
  • Do you think your friends or family may change while you are away?
  • Do you think you will change if you were gone for awhile?
  • What would you take with you to make you feel less homesick?
  • Do you think you will be a better person if you go?

Next month will be the start of a new year!  Let's read The Library of Ever by Zeno Alexander!

Let me know in the comment sections below!  I look forward to hearing what you think!