Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Year of the Dog

A novel by Grace Lin

Lin, Grace. The Year of the Dog. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. ISBN 9780316060004

Plot Summary
Grace, aka Pacy, is a Taiwanese American girl living through the Year of the Dog, the Chinese New Year tradition. For Grace this means that this is the year for family, friends, and to find herself. She is determined to decide what she wants to be while discovering new talents this year. Throughout the school year Grace gains friends and participates in school activities, like the science fair and the school play. In her quest, Grace overcomes stereotypes, obstacles, and learns more about herself.

Critical Analysis
In this novel, Grace Lin presents a beautifully written humorous and touching story. Her inspiration for writing her first novel comes from wishing there was a book like this when she was a young girl. The Taiwanese American culture that Lin writes about helps educate others on this culture that many people may not be familiar with. It also gives Taiwanese American children a glimpse into a life that may be similar to theirs.

The text flows nicely which makes for an easy read that is very descriptive. Readers will be able to sympathize and/or empathize with the characters' emotions, especially Grace's. I was able to feel Grace's frustration, disappointment, excitement, and hope through Lin's words. The main character is a Taiwanese American girl who has two names. Her name is Pacy, but everyone except her family calls her by her American name, Grace. This story has many cultural connections with names and traditions. One experience Grace has with her culture is when her grandma paints Chinese symbols on her neck to help with her neck pain. In the story, Lin provides readers with the actual Chinese symbols for tiger and pig. The tiger is believed to chase the pig which will massage the neck muscles. Grace is amazed when it actually works. There is a section of the book where Grace and her friends go to the library to search for a Chinese book. To their disappointment, they come across The Seven Chinese Brothers, which is not a true representation of Chinese people. Grace also gets told that she can't be Dorothy in the school play because "Dorothy's not Chinese." Even though she is dealing with prejudicial people and situations, Grace shows strength in her will to keep on pushing and trying.

Throughout the story, Lin has cute little sketches and drawings that provide visual entertainment for readers. Each chapter starts with a title arced over a sketch to represent the content in the chapter. In the back of the book there is an Author's Note from Grace Lin, a Reader's Guide, and a sneak peek at the book sequel, The Year of the Rat.

Children will be able to relate to this light-hearted story. I highly recommend this book for public and school libraries to enhance their collections through multicultural literature.

Review Excerpts
  • "A lighthearted coming-of-age novel with a cultural twist." -School Library Journal 
  • "Lin does a remarkable job capturing the soul and the spirit of books like those of Hayward or Maud Hart Lovelace, reimagining them through the lens of her own story, and transforming their special qualities into something new for today's young readers." -Booklist (starred review)
  • "This comfortable first-person story will be a treat for Asian-American girls looking to see themselves in their reading, but also for any reader who enjoys stories of friendship and family life." -Kirkus
More books with Chinese and Chinese American culture for elementary school age children.
  • Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look
  • The Year of the Rat by Grace Lin
  • The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng

The Favorite Daughter

Written & illustrated by Allen Say
Say, Allen. The Favorite Daughter. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013. ISBN 9780545176620

Plot Summary
After bringing a photo of herself to class of when she was young, Yuriko has decided she does not like her name anymore. The students and even the new art teacher are calling her "Eureka." She is a beautiful half Japanese half American girl who has blond hair. She doesn't want to be different, she wants to be a normal girl with a normal name like Michelle. Fortunately, Yuriko has a kind and understanding father who uses gentle ways of reminding her who she is and how to appreciate her Japanese American culture.

Critical Analysis
This is an autobiographical book about Allen Say's daughter growing up as a bi-cultural child in America. The text does not describe the physical attributes of the characters, so the illustrations and photographs are very important to the visual aspects of the story. Say does incorporate the Japanese culture with character's names and the descriptions of areas at the Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park. The main character's name is Yuriko, and when her and her father go to a Japanese sushi restaurant the chef addresses her as "Yuriko-chan." While Yuriko and her father are in the Japanese Garden they watch the sumi-e demonstration. Say has to clarify this word for his daughter and explain that it means "Japanese ink painting." The story exemplifies modern Japanese American culture. Readers may not understand the different ways Yuriko is addressed. At the sushi restaurant she is addressed as Yuriko-chan and the Japanese artist addresses her as Yuriko-san. Say does not explain the differences in these two names, but this can lead to good discovery in a classroom.

Say's illustrations drawn with watercolors, ink, and pencil are beautifully executed. He has also incorporated two real photographs of his daughter. The first photo of his daughter when she was young shows Yuriko's Japanese eyes that are really her only visual Japanese feature. The last page of the story has a photo of Yuriko when she actually visited Japan with her father years later. The majority of the Japanese men in the book, including Say, have dark or gray hair with mustaches. There is only one illustration that shows Yuriko's eyes looking like slits or slanted, but she seems to be looking down. There are only a few places in the story were traditional Japanese attire is worn. One is when Yuriko is wearing her red Kimono, another where a worker at the tea house is dressed up, and the last one is the photo of Yuriko in Japan at the end.

As a whole, this is a heartfelt story of modern family cultures, family values, self identity, and fitting in. I would definitely recommend this book for school and public libraries. It would make a great addition to any library's multicultural books.

Review Excerpts
  • "Say's command of watercolor, ink, and pencil develops the visual narrative through a combination of uncluttered interiors; peaceful, restorative gardens; and emotionally complex portraits." -School Library Journal
  • "Still, the genuine warmth and nontrivializing look at childhood troubles should endear this to a young audience. And the emphasis on celebrating one’s culture while finding common ground with others is universally handy." -Booklist
  • "As the story of a young artist's coming of age, Say's account is complex, poignant, and unfailingly honest. Say's fans--and those who also feel the pull of the artist's life--will be captivated." -Publishers Weekly
More books by Allen Say for Preschool to 3rd grade children.
  • Grandfather's Journey (9780547076805)
  • Tea with Milk (9780547237473)
  • The Bicycle Man (9780395506523)

Apple Pie 4th of July

By Janet S. Wong
Pictures by Margaret Chodos-Irvine

Wong, Janet S. Apple Pie 4th of July. Ill. by Margaret Chodos-Irvine. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc., 2002. ISBN 9780152025434

Plot Summary
"No one wants Chinese food on the Fourth of July, I say." A Chinese American girl is not happy that her parents are making Chinese food on the 4th of July. Neither of her parents were born in America, but she is trying to educate them on how things really are. As the day goes on, she watches the parade go by her parent's store, and she soon changes her tune on thinking people do not want Chinese food on an American holiday.

Critical Analysis
Margaret Chodos-Irvine's artwork for this book was created with a "variety of printmaking techniques on Lana printmaking paper" (Harcourt, 2000). An interesting element to Chodos-Irvine's illustrations is her inspiration. To gain inspiration she visited family-owned markets in Seattle, Washington where she lives, and she also attended parades near by. A variety of skin tones are represented in this story. The main character is Chinese American with tan skin, black hair, and dark eyes. Customers that come into her parents store range from brown skin with dark eyes and hair to tan/peach skin tone with light brown eyes and hair. There is even one customer with light skin and gray hair. There is no cultural reference in the clothes of the people in the illustrations.

Janet Wong has created a simple, fun, and multicultural story told from a young girl's perspective. Wong never reveals the main character's name in the book. There is only one name that is mentioned, Laura, who is not ever seen in the book. The food the young girl's parents are cooking is Chinese food; egg rolls, chow mein, and sweet and sour pork. Wong's words combined with Chodos-Irvine's illustrations present the disappointment of the young girl when she realizes she can't blame her parents for not knowing how to celebrate an American holiday, like the fourth of July. Wong's simple text exhibits some rhyming that makes the story fun to read aloud. This story with the artwork provides a great multicultural connection for young elementary classrooms.

Review Excerpts
  • "This excellent read-aloud will partner well with books that emphasize American patriotism..." -Booklist (starred review)
  • "This second successful collaboration by the creators of Buzz (Harcourt, 2000) is one you won't want to miss." -School Library Journal
  • "The art resembles cut-paper collage. Chodos-Irvine deploys sharply defined objects in a range of colors and patterns to construct harmonious, forthright compositions that will likely prove inviting to readers of many backgrounds." -Publishers Weekly
More Asian American children's books about celebrations, American and Asian.
  • Bringing in the New Year (Read to a Child) by Grace Lin
  • Uncle Peter's Amazing Chinese Wedding by Lenore Look
  • Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival by Grace Lin
Have students share some of their own traditions and celebrations.