It’s that time again. Our Summer Reading programs started today at work and I’m feeling the need to challenge myself and mix things up a bit. Our programs run through August 24th and I’m shooting to post a book review on each of those 60 days. I’m also going to be changing my format a little and hopefully making them a bit more useful than the short critiques I’ve given in the past. We’ll see if it works better or if I end up reverting back to the lazier mode! I’d love your opinions and comments (and as always your book suggestions!)
Author: Andrea Cheng
Illustrator: Abigail Halpin
Age Range: 7-10
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Cover Score: ****
First sentence: Ray, the crossing guard, is waiting at the curb in his orange vest that catches the sunrise.
Anna is struggling with being a kid. Her best friend has mostly abandoned her for the snobby popular crowd who mocks her homemade lunch bag, the way she knits a toe sock for Ray and her tendency to daze off in class while reading. She's embarrassed by her mother who doesn’t speak English well, works as a janitor on Saturdays and still hasn’t passed her driving test. She's frustrated at Chinese school where she doesn't understand what's going on. She's smart but her schoolwork is never as neat and tidy as the other girls' in her class and somehow no matter what she does it just doesn't seem good enough.
Typical of most kids (and adults for that matter) she feels as if she's the only person having problems and no one understands what she's going through. Particularly she's at odds with her mother, the English traditions and culture constantly clashing with the Chinese.
But then Anna finds out that Laura's parents are fighting and getting divorced. Ray the crossing guard slips and breaks his leg, Camille (her only friend at Chinese school) has a hard time with school and may have to repeat 4th grade and even Allison isn't as perfect as she appears.
She teaches Laura to sew, helps Camille with some of her homework and finds strength and reassurance from her adult friends, Ray and Mr. Shepherd, and a very supportive teacher.
There are brief mentions of some of Anna’s family’s Chinese traditions and culture such as Chinese New Year, the way they celebrate Thanksgiving and more. There's a pronunciation guide at the front with the Chinese phrases used (and illustrations of their characters). And the small sketches sprinkled throughout (many of them recreating the covers of the books Anna is reading) add the perfect touch.
I'm a sucker for books about books. I love it when the character is an avid reader (or not and gets swept up in reading or catches the reading bug thanks to an encouraging teacher or a certain book.) I love it when they make reference to the books they've read or allude to characters in other books. Anna uses her books as an escape tactic, getting lost in them (as all good readers do!) But she also draws inferences, makes connections to her own life and uses them to ask herself some deep and difficult questions and see the world through the eyes of other people.
Here’s a sample of the writing:
Allison is a skinny girl with brown hair and sweater sets. Now she's whispering something to Lucy and looking sideways at Laura. She's a whispering kind of girl. (page 63)
Instead of Anna Wang, I could be Anna Brown or Anna Smith. I see my reflection in the glass pane in the door. But then my name wouldn't match my face. There’s is a girl in the Chinese class named April Sawalasky. She was adopted from China, so she has a Chinese face without a Chinese name. I wonder if she even thinks about that. (page 71)
My biggest complaint is that I wish there'd been a list at the end of all the books referenced. So I made my own!
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by EL Konigsburg
Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni
*My Louisiana Sky by Kimberly Willis Holt
*Hush by Jacqueline Woodson
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeliene L'Engle (with honorable mentions to the rest of the series)
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
George Shrinks by William Joyce
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
*books I haven't read yet and added to my list!
But I love the tiny book illustrations on the front cover and the allusions in the title to the Chinese Zodiac mentioned near the end of the book. And I do love that there were directions for sewing your own drawstring bag on the back cover!
Multi-ethnic kids will appreciate Anna’s struggles and avid readers will appreciate all of her book love. Definitely recommended!