Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park (9781328781505)
Hanna and her father travel by wagon in 1880 to a small town in the Midwest where they plan to sell dress goods. Hanna though has another plan, one that her father doesn’t support, to design, sew and sell dresses for the women in town rather than just selling the materials. Hanna also wants to graduate from school, but that is not without a lot of controversy in the town. Hanna is half Chinese, her Chinese mother died in California, and her father is white. While her father is entirely accepted by the town, Hanna faces prejudice on a daily basis. In fact, most of the other students drop out of school when it is clear that Hanna will be allowed to attend. Meanwhile, their family shop is being built and stocked. Hanna and her teacher work on a plan to get her to graduate by the end of the year, though it seems less like a solution for Hanna and more of a way around the controversy she creates. As the opening of the shop nears, Hanna will face one of the most daunting and frightening moments of her life and must figure out how to keep it from ruining their future.
In her afterword, Park explains her connection as a child to the Little House on the Prairie book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her book clearly pays homage to the best of that series, set in a similar community with characters who echo some of the most iconic from the series. But Park takes the opportunity to right a lot of what is wrong with that series. She carefully includes Native Americans in the book, paying attention to all they have lost by this time in American history and to their language and way of life. This is beautifully done.
Park also creates a space for Americans of color on the prairie, showing that the settlement of America was done by more than the white people we usually see depicted. She works with the prejudice, stereotypes and aggression that people of color faced then and continue to face today. This is a book that un-erases people from history.
Marvelous, timeless and important. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Clarion Books.
Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki (9781524771874)
Released on September 24, 2019.
Tyrus Wong entered the United States by using papers that belonged to another Chinese boy. In 1919, Chinese people entering the U.S. had to prove that they were of high status. Tyrus and his father both traveled under other people’s identities, making him a paper son. He had to memorize details of the other boy’s life and village, knowing that he would be tested to see if his identity was real. When they reached immigration, his father was let through easily but Tyrus was held for weeks until he was finally released after being interrogated about his identity. Tyrus didn’t like school much and his father was often away for work. Tyrus loved art, studying both western and eastern art styles. After he graduated from art school, he worked for Disney Studios, doing painstaking work. Then he heard of a new movie, Bambi, that the studio was working on. He began to create backgrounds for the film and Walt Disney loved them. Fired from Disney after a worker’s strike, Tyrus continued to make art throughout the rest of his life.
Leung tells Wong’s story with a lovely clarity. From his entry into the country through his career, Wong’s tale is not linear but rather a series of opportunities that he seized upon. The beginning of the book shows a family trapped in the red tape of immigration and that harrowing experience blossoms into a book about art and opportunity to express one’s self. That again narrows when Wong finds himself doing grunt work for Disney Studios and once again opportunities appear to move him forward. Throughout there is a sense of grace and resilience when faced with real obstacles.
The art work is clearly done with Wong in mind, with its ethereal backgrounds. The images are powerful, often showing things from a unique perspective from a look at a line of people on a long pier to directly gazing into Wong’s window to looking down at an image painted with a mop. The result is dramatic and beautiful.
A picture book biography that celebrates a lesser-known artist whose work we have all seen. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.
Stargazing by Jen Wang (9781250183880)
Moon and Christine could not be more different even though they both have grown up in the same Chinese-American neighborhood. Christine has strict parents who don’t let her wear nail polish, much less makeup. Moon’s single-parent mother is accepting and gentle. Christine tends to be more concerned with fitting in than Moon who is rather dreamy and loves dancing and music. The two girls decide to enter the school’s talent contest as a dance team, bringing out Christine’s performing side that she never knew existed. Just as the girls start to gel as friends though, Moon reveals that she has visions sometimes. When the true cause of the visions turns out to be seizures, Christine must figure out what sort of friend she really is.
Award-winning graphic novelist Wang invites readers into a personal story about growing up Chinese-American. She draws from her own medical past with seizures and brain surgery to create a graphic novel that is wrenching and real. She entirely leaves her heart on the pages, giving us two girls who are different from one another but clearly meant to be friends. The books’ premise may be personal, but the result is a book that is universal. Wang’s art is accessible and friendly, inviting readers to explore and learn along the way. There are wonderful moments that are distinctly Chinese-American that resonate across cultures.
A warm and rich graphic novel about friendship and so much more. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang (9781338157802)
When Mia and her family first moved to the United States from China, she expected to live in a big house with a car and have plenty of money. But her parents have struggled from the beginning to find jobs. When they become caretakers of a motel, the job gives them free rent, but requires one of them to be on duty at all times and Mia’s parents to spend all of their time doing laundry and cleaning the rooms. Mia steps up to help by manning the front desk. She gets to know the “weeklies” who are the people who stay at the motel long term. Her family quickly realizes that the man who owns the motel is dishonest but Mia has a plan to help her parents get off of the roller coaster of poverty. All she needs is to write a perfect letter in English and somehow find $300.
Based on her own childhood growing up as a family managing motels, Yang tells a vibrant story of hope in the face of crushing poverty. It is a book that shows how communities develop, how one girl can make a big difference in everyone’s life and how dreams happen, just not in the way you plan. Yang’s writing is fresh, telling the tale of Chinese immigrants looking for the American dream and not finding it easily due to prejudice. She valiantly takes on serious issues of racism and poverty in this book.
Mia is a great protagonist. She never gives up, always optimistic and looking for a new way to problem solve. Her own desire to be a writer plays out organically in the novel, showing how someone learning a new language can master it. The examples of her editing and correcting her own writing are cleverly done, showing the troubles with American expressions and verb tenses.
A great read that embraces diversity and gives voice to immigrant children. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.
The Way Home Looks Now by Wendy Wan-Long Shang (InfoSoup)
The author of The Great Wall of Lucy Wu returns with a new novel for young readers. Peter loves baseball just like all of the others in his family, including his mother who is a huge Pittsburgh Pirates fan. His older brother is amazing at baseball and will occasionally join in the neighborhood game and hit homeruns with his favorite bat. But when tragedy strikes their family, Peter stops playing entirely. He can’t seem to find joy in it anymore and starts to spend most of his time alone. As Peter’s mother descends deeply into grief, rarely eating or speaking and never leaving the living room, Peter decides that maybe baseball can inspire her to return to normal. So Peter tries out for a Little League team that his father reluctantly agrees to coach. Soon baseball is once again a huge part of their family, but can it heal the wounds left behind by loss?
Shang has written a book that will appeal to children who adore baseball but also invites in those who may not be fans. This is not a sports book, but rather a novel that features baseball and the catalyst that sports can be for a family to rally around. At the same time, Shang shows the appeal of baseball in particular with its mathematical logic, fascinating trick plays, and the effect that being on a team can have on different kids.
The central family in this novel is Chinese American. Shang weaves details of that heritage throughout the novel. It is more about the reverberations through generations of concepts like honoring your elders and showing respect in very tangible ways. The father in the book had been a distant figure and suddenly becomes that sole caretaker for Peter and his little sister. That transition is shown in all of its difficulty, made even more difficult because of the strict nature of their relationship. These complexities add a lot of depth to the novel, making it about so much more than baseball.
A deep look at grief, loss and baseball, this novel features strong writing and great characters of diversity. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.
Crouching Tiger by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by Yan Nascimbene
Vinson is fascinated when his grandfather arrives from China and practices tai chi in the backyard. When Vinson finds out it’s a martial art, he thinks it might be like kung fu but soon learns it is not. His grandfather begins to teach him the basic movements of tai chi but it is slow and requires a lot of patience. When Vinson is offered a place in the Chinese New Year parade, he’s not sure he wants to even participate. However, when he and his grandfather get to China Town, he discovers that his grandfather has been saying wonderful things about him and that everyone is very pleased to meet him. Even more importantly, the respect everyone shows his gentle, quiet grandfather changes his view of martial arts and the man himself.
This book is perfect for Chinese New Year, since that holiday is celebrated in the story. The growth of the main character is well developed, especially for a picture book. The quiet grace of tai chi is shown throughout the book, including the overall tone of the story itself.
The illustrations also reflect that quiet simplicity with their expanses of watercolor and fine lines. The illustrations are modern-feeling and capture the excitement of the New Year and the movement of martial arts with great energy.
This winning title is a dynamic but also introspective look at the Chinese New Year and tai chi. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Also reviewed by BookDragon.
Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival by Grace Lin
Join a Chinese-American family as they head out into the night to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. They bring a night-time picnic and set up the moon-honoring table. There are glowing lanterns and tea to drink. There are also special mooncakes to munch. Then everyone thanks the moon for bringing them together and make secret wishes. This will have every child wishing that they could celebrate the Moon Festival too.
A gentle and simple story, Lin offers a glimpse of Chinese heritage in this picture book. With just one or two lines of text per double page spread, she invites readers to the picnic and the celebration. Her illustrations are jewel-toned and delightful. She fills the night time sky with swirls and plays with other patterns throughout as well. From the plate to the tea cups to clothing and lanterns, everything has a touch of pattern to catch the eye.
This short, simple book concludes with some additional information on the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival that will answer any questions that readers may have. Lin has once again created a book that is inviting, interesting and culturally fascinating. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House.
Also reviewed by: