Burma Pagoda from Department of State, Teach Me Tuesday Burma Pragmatic Mom

Burma (Myanmar) for Kids: Books and Culture

Burma or Myanmar for Kids Though Books and Activities

Why Burma? A trio of serendipitous events collided:

  • A Mom Friend from Burma hosted a Mystery Dinner School Fundraiser and 8 parents from my school went to her dinner.
  • I had brunch with one set of parents who raved about her dinner, a Burmese Noodle Dish — recipe below –, and reminisced about his own travels to Burma.  He was there during the student protests (see history bullet points below) which was a crazy and somewhat unsafe time to be a tourist in Burma.
  • I was at a U2 concert a year ago, and Bono dedicated a song to Aung San Suu Kyi, who was I barely aware of.

And that is all it took.  Plus me realizing that I knew nothing about Burma, to the point that I didn’t fully realize that Myanmar is Burma.  Such is Teach Me Tuesday … I teach myself (that’s the Teach Me part) and then I share what I hope is also interesting to others.  I’m not sure if I would feel safe traveling to Burma now with my family so this is my way to arm chair travel — through children’s literature, food, photo essays,  and the briefest pit stop into the history.  I hope you enjoy the trip.  And please share in the comments section any experiences you have had in Burma.  And if you have more children’s books suggestions, please share!

Children’s Literature

Picture Book

The challenge for this Burma post was finding picture books and middle grade or YA books on Burma.  My Burmese Mom Friend had asked her children’s librarian friend to help with this search but all of us came up with zippo.  So I started to dig deeper on the web and came up with a really interesting not-for-profit project created by refugee children from Burma and benefiting the Burma Cyclone Relief Fund called My Beautiful Myanmar.  The drawings and stories are created entirely by refugee children about why they left Myanmar, what their lives are like in Malaysia, and what their hopes and dreams are.  100% of proceeds go to the Burma Cyclone Relief Fund.  Here’s an interesting way to teach your children about a different country and do good at the same time!

My Beautiful Myanmar best children's picture book on burma, teach me tuesday, pragmatic mom

My beautiful myanmar cyclone relief fund burma teach me tuesday pragmaticmom.com

Young Adult Book

The next book I found was by Mitali Perkins, an author from my town, who is lovely and talented.  This YA book gets rave reviews:

Young Adult fiction Bamboo People Mitali Perkins modern day Burma, Pragmatic Mom Teach me Tuesday Burma best mom blog family children's literature multi culturalBamboo People by Mitali Perkins (Young Adult Fiction)

  • “A graceful exploration of the redemptive power of love, family, and friendship.”  Publishers WeeklyStarred Review
  • “With authenticity, insight, and compassion, Perkins delivers another culturally rich coming-of-age novel.”  School Library Journal Starred Review
  • “Mitali Perkins has written something here that is so fine, so rare, so beautiful, that I am loath to move on to another book too quickly because I want to think and remember and savor this exquisite story.” —Bookmoot

And here’s the plot summary:

“Chiko isn’t a fighter by nature. He’s a book-loving Burmese boy whose father, a doctor, is in prison for resisting the government. Tu Reh, on the other hand, wants to fight for freedom after watching Burmese soldiers destroy his Karenni family’s home and bamboo fields.Timidity becomes courage and anger becomes compassion as each boy is changed by unlikely friendships formed under extreme circumstances.This coming-of-age novel  takes place against the political and military backdrop of modern-day Burma. Narrated by two fifteen-year-old boys on opposing sides of the conflict between the Burmese government and the Karenni, one of the many ethnic minorities in Burma, Bamboo People explores the nature of violence, power, and prejudice.” From Mitali Perkin’s Website.
I found this event on Paper Tigers Blog (I subscribe): Global Read of Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins

You are invited to join us for a discussion of the young adult novel, Bamboo People, by Mitali Perkins — a compelling coming-of-age story about child soldiers in modern Burma. The online discussion forum will begin tomorrow – Wednesday, January 12th. Then join the author for a live chat on January 19th.

Online discussion forum: January 12th-19th, 2011
Live chat session with the author: Wednesday, January 19, 3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. EST

Register online here (registration is free but participants are responsible for obtaining their own copy of the book). All are welcome – teachers, students, parents, and anyone interested in global issues!

Young Adult Photo Essay Book

Finally, “a picture speaks a thousand words” in this photo essay book built around a single letter of correspondence to a young soldier (and would be interesting paired with Bamboo People for middle grade or older):

Burma: Something Went Wrong by Chan Chao [non fiction photo essays for Young Adult]

Burma: Something Went Wrong, portraits, Teach Me Tuesday, Pragmatic MomThe book is built around a single letter of correspondence sent to Chao in 1997 by Aye Saung. The brief letter relays news of a friend’s death, a fighter’s struggle, and a movement’s dreams and setbacks. While the letter and accompanying portraits are specific to Burma in 1997, the themes found in Letter from P.L.F. are universal, making this an artists’ book of the highest order.

Letter from two of the guerilla fighters: “Hallo! Dear Naing Naing, I am so sorry for not writing you earlier. Do you remember Myint Zaw, General Secretary of D.A.B.? He died in March by sickness. All the place you had been with us in Hteekabalae are fallen into enemy’s hand. I was in the area when the enemy approached. I sent my men to the front and have to leave quickly. I was told by my men to leave they don’t let me know because they didn’t want me to worry.”

This book shows us a region in constant turmoil, whose people have been at war with themselves for generations, where violence and death, nevertheless, provide a backdrop to what is still a golden land.

Photos of Burma — Shangri La Lost?

I have heard people speak of the beauty of Burma and when I found these photos I was really quite stunned by their beauty.

These photos are from Molon Gallery in Burma
Thatbyinnyu pagoda Burma Teach Me Tuesday Pragmatic MomThabyinnyu Pagoda
Evening view over Bagan plain Burma Teach Me Tuesday pragmatic MomEvening View of Bagan Plain
Burma Pagoda from Department of State, Teach Me Tuesday Burma Pragmatic MomThe Shwedagon Pagoda, Rangoon, Burma

Briefest History of Burma: Colonization and Coups Never End Well…

Burma has one of the most eclectic cultural mixes in all of Asia. This began with the migration of three groups, the Mons from present-day Cambodia, the Mongol Burmans from the Himalayas and the Thais from northern Thailand. The territory that is now Burma, was first united under King Anawratha in present day Bagan. However, this unification was short lived and it took 250 years before Burma was reunified in the mid-16th Century under a series of Taungoo kings.  Since then, and even now, Burma’s history has been troubled and violent.

  • Border clashes with British troops, economic potential and empire expansion lead the British to invade Burma. It took three invasions to control the whole of Burma in 1824, 1852 and 1883. Burma, under the British rule was annexed to India.
  • In World War II,  the Burmese National Army, which fought along side the Japanese to drive the British out of Burma. However, before the end of the war, the Burmese National Army changed sides and fought with the allied forces to expel the Japanese.
  • Following World War II, the British agreed to Burma’s independence and elections were held in April 1947. However, most members of the new government were assasinated three months later.
  • Despite this on January 4, 1948, Burma gained independence and became the Union of Burma. In 1948 the Burman’s controlled the area surrounding Rangoon, the rest was controlled by the different ethnic groups.  Many ethnic groups and religious minorities revolted and formed armed resistance groups.
  • In 1958 Prime Minister U Nu invited the army to help restore the government’s political power, which for 18 months, had limitless power.
  • In 1962 Burma’s troubled democracy was ousted in a military coup by General Ne Win. During the coup the constitution was abolished and a military government took over the running of the country. Consequently, the government’s policies also changed, they became xenophobic and put the country on the path to socialism.
  • Very quickly the country changed. In 1939 under the British Burma was the world’s largest rice exporter and it had a successful export business in teak and gems. Burma was one of the richest countries in South East Asia. After 1962, it became the poorest. All business were nationalized, all privately owned stores were closed and replaced with ones that were controlled by the state. No one received compensation for these seizures. Many people lost their jobs. A black market emerged and it was the only way to find essential items.
  • Also due to the xenophobic nature of the military leaders, people who were not Burmese were encouraged to leave the country. A lot of Indian and Chinese who were entrepreneurs were expelled from Burma.
  • After student protests in 1988, there was another military coup and Ne Win was replaced by General Saw Maung and his State Law and Restoration Council (SLORC). Maung declared Burma to be in a state of emergency which resulted in the military-law. Maung also suspended the constitution and changed the name of the country to the Union of Myanmar, because the Union of Burma, as it had previously been known, was an outdated colonial term.
  • However, he also agreed to hold free elections in 1989. A group quickly formed a coalition party in opposition to the military run dictatorship, called the National League of Democracy (NLD). Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of independence crusader Aung San, emerged as the leader of the NLD. Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the NLD were put under house arrest. Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in July 1995. In 1991 she was received the Nobel Peace Prize.  She continues to be under house arrest.
  • At the end of October 2004, there was another coup in Burma, with General Khin Nyunt being allowed to resign for “health reasons” while being under house arrest. He was allegedly ousted for being too inclined for democratic reformed, and his successor, General Soa Win, is a military hardliner.

Recipes:  Ohno Khaw Swe (Burmese Noodles with Coconut Sauce)

& Burmese Crunchy Cucumber Salad

If that was too dreary for you, let us leave on an upbeat note.  Here’s that Burmese Noodle Dish that everyone raved about.  The Mom Friend who made it says that it’s a favorite family meal for them because everyone can customize their own which is especially great for children!

Ohno Khaw Swe (Burmese Noodles with Coconut Sauce) by Jenny Tun-Aung
Ingredients:
  • Chicken (breast, thighs, skin removed)
  • Chicken stock/broth
  • Coconut milk can
  • Gram flour
  • Turmeric and Paprika
  • Fish sauce
  • Onions (cut into big chunks or use whole if small. Pearl onions will do also).
  • Oil
  • Garlic
  • Can of Cream of Chicken Soup (optional)
  • *Noodles (your choice – small flat rice noodles or linguini)
Condiments to serve on the side:
  • Lemons or limes, sliced
  • Crushed red pepper
  • Fish sauce
  • Crispies (like crispy chow mein noodles)
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Sliced green onions
Cut up chicken to about one-inch cubes or desired size and marinade with Turmeric and Paprika, some fish sauce, garlic powder or diced garlic. Heat the ready-made chicken broth, or make chicken stock. In a cup, add gram flour with some water to mix well and add to soup stock, stirring occasionally. Add chunks of onions (makes soup thicker and sweeter), let onions cook/soften.  Then add the coconut milk and keep slowly simmering to cook all the ingredients and thicken a bit. Heat oil in another pan while the soup is simmering. In small cup, mix turmeric, paprika and a tiny amount of either water or the soup to form a bit of paste. Put this into the heated oil and immediately add the marinated chicken and cook until meat is done. Chicken should have a nice color and flavor from spices. Add the cooked chicken into the simmering stock and coconut milk pot. Continue simmering and keep stirring occasionally on low heat. Cream of Chicken can be added if you want to make the sauce a little thicker. Cook noodles. Put noodles in bowls, add sauce, add the sides (where people add their choices of condiments to their own taste – I like little bit of sauce, lots of sour and spicy! Others like it a more like soup with more sauce. Whatever you like!).You can cook it ahead of time and keep simmered until ready or heat it up when ready to serve.
ENJOY! HAVE SECONDS. FREEZE THE EXTRA SAUCE.

Burmese Crunchy Cucumber Salad (by Tun Aung)

Ingredients:
  • Cucumbers (skin on, halved lengthwise and sliced about ¼ inch thick or so). Estimate about 1-2cucumber a person (it will really shrink!)
  • Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Sesame seeds if desired
  • Slivered ginger
  • Slivered garlic (if desired)
  • Oil
  • Optional: Crispy fried sliced onions
Marinate the sliced cucumbers with sea salt (be generous, some of the salt will drain out with the liquid in next step). Put in colander and press down with a heavy weight for at least half a day or overnight. The salt will soak in and drain the water from cucumber. Drain (squeeze out) excess liquid from cucumber.  You can simply squish with your hands over the sink or put into a tea towel or cheesecloth and squeeze.  Mix with the above rest of the ingredients. Top with sesame and/or crispy fried onions and add to taste.The good thing about this recipe is that you can make most of it ahead of time.
Bon Appetit!

If you are interested in examining any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.



If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom

6 Comments

  1. nat

    thanks for writing about burma, i really enjoy the teach me tuesday series — i just shared with my adventurous friend who have traveled to burma a couple of years ago with her family, and thanks for the recipes, can’t wait to try!

    • Thanks so much! I sometimes feel like we’re the only people out there reading this feature but what the hay?! It’s really fun to research and dream about traveling! Arm chair travel is the next best thing!

  2. Mim

    Thanks for writing about my native country and raising awareness. I learned a lot too. I wish there were more children books but I think I will just have to start one!

    • To Mim,

      YES! You must write a picture book on your home country, Burma. They simply do not exist. I so enjoyed creating the post and learning about your beautiful country! The landscape is simply breathtaking. I hope to go someday with my family!

  3. After I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new feedback are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get 4 emails with the same comment. Is there any way you may take away me from that service? Thanks

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge