Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin by Michelle Lord, illustrated by Felicia Hoshino
The Plot: Historical fiction set in the early 20th century. Little Sap, daughter of a rice farmer, earns a place in the royal dance troupe of Cambodia. Later, as one of the royal dancers, Little Sap travels to Paris, where the artist Auguste Rodin sketches the dancers.
The Good: The author's note informs us that this beautiful picture book is as historically accurate as possible, though not much is known about the real Little Sap. Instead of leaving the reader wondering, she explains that "although many details in the story are imagined, the main events are true and the dialogue is taken from actual quotes." I love when historical fiction is clear about what is history and what is fiction.
Aside from that, it's the story of a girl who works hard to better her life and that of her family; and does something, dance, that takes discipline and hard work.
The artwork by Hoshino is rich and gorgeous.
This would be a great selection for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (which is May); it's not the typical Asian Pacific picture book, typical being all too often a story that is set either in Japan or China and is usually a folk or fairy tale. It's a book that celebrates Cambodia and it's art, dance, history, culture, and impact on the world.
Interesting links: Interview with author and illustrator;
the Cynthia Leitich Smith cynsations author interview;
more about Rodin and the dancers;
and this fascinating article, Dancing in Cambodia by Amitav Ghosh that addresses the dancers' trip to France, Rodin, and the connections to Pol Pot.
Also check out the Book Moot review, reminding us that "kids MUST find themselves in their school library."