Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han, illustrated by Julia Kuo
Her name is Clara Lee .. “first and last. It just sounds better that way. Like peanut butter and jelly, like trick-or-treat, or fairy and princess, those words just go together. Just like me, Clara Lee.” She’s the newest – and first Korean American! – heroine from Jenny Han … until now, Han’s previous protagonists in the fluffy fun Shug and the sighing, dreamy Belly-trilogy that began with The Summer I Turned Pretty have been nonethnic-specific.
Clara Lee, age 8, is a no-nonsense third-grader. She’s confident but occasionally opinionated, she’s friendly but gets impatient, she’s loyal but can get frustrated. She lives with her grandfather, her parents, and a little sister who sometimes just drives her nuts. She’s Korean American, “which means I was born in America but my blood is Korean.” Now that the annual Apple Blossom Festival is coming up, Clara thinks she might try out for Little Miss Apple Pie and get to ride on the most important float during the town parade!
One night, Clara Lee has a frightening dream, which she shares with her grandfather: “Whenever I have an interesting, scary, or fabulous dream, I tell Grandpa about it the next morning. It’s because my grandpa is a dream genius.” Grandpa assures Clara Lee that indeed, she’s actually had a Good Luck dream! Sure enough, good luck follows her all day, from getting the back seat on the bus, to climbing all the way to the top of the rope in P.E. for the very first time, to getting an A+ on her squirrel story in Language Arts, to even finding a candy necklace in her desk!
Clara Lee is hoping that Good Luck will help her become the next Little Miss Apple Pie. But when Dionne Gregory – “a bit of a know-it-all-type” – tells Clara Lee about how her ancestors helped found their sweet little town, that her mother and grandmother were Little Miss Apple Pies when they were young, Clara Lee’s confidence begins to crumble: “Wasn’t my family as American as apple pie, too? Grandpa came from Korea, but both my mom and dad were born in America, just like me!”
As Clara Lee begins to doubt herself, her Good Luck crumbles … and she wonders how she’ll ever change her luck back in order to have a chance at becoming the next Little Miss Apple Pie. With the help of her friends and family, especially her ever-so-wise Grandpa, Clara Lee figures out how to make her own luck.
Han’s first person voice is again just right to draw readers in. She’s imaginative, observant, witty, and just naughty enough. Julia Kuo‘s pictures – which are surprisingly reminiscent of Grace Lin‘s award-winning illustrations – playfully punctuate Clara Lee’s adventures (especially touching with Clara Lee’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’ lists). Given the entertaining combination, clearly, this is not the last we’ll hear of Clara Lee!
Readers: Middle Grade