Only One Year by Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Nicole Wong
Sisters Sharon and Mary are shocked when their mother tells them that their two-year-old younger brother, Di Di, will be sent to China to live for a year with their grandparents. “‘A whole year?'” they ask incredulously. Mama explains that the girls are older, heading into fourth and first grade, their father needs to stay late at his architecture job, and she herself is starting a new job at the junior high school. “‘We cannot leave him with a stranger,'” she tries to explain to the girls when they suggest day care or a babysitter. “‘A babysitter is not like Nai Nai [grandmother]. For a babysitter, Di Di is a job. But for Nai Nai, he is a grandson.'”
So off Di Di goes on the big airplane with Mama, who returns home alone. Sharon and Mary miss him muchly at first, but their busy lives make the year pass quickly. When Di Di returns home to America with Nai Nai, Di Di’s readjustment to his parents and siblings is not without tears. Little by little, the siblings find their way back together again, with the fivesome-family finally restored.
Ever prepared for readers’ reactions, Andrea Cheng, who writes often about families in flux, adds in the “Author’s Note” at story’s end, “The idea behind this story may seem unusual, but it is not as uncommon as you may think. Some parents in the United States might find it hard to imagine being separated from their young children, but attitudes about raising children are sometimes quite different in other countries, especially in Asia and Africa.” She offers a heartfelt essay about why parents – especially immigrant parents – might choose long-term separation from their children, and challenges older readers to think about different family structures. She shares further thoughts in an interview available on her publisher (Lee & Low Books)’s site.
Cheng’s illustrator, Nicole Wong, who also did the touching art for Cheng’s Brushing Mom’s Hair, who gently captures the family just so in this latest title, mentions in her back-flap bio, “Wong was drawn to the story in Only One Year because it presents a Chinese American experience that is different from her own.” The family’s separation will definitely strike a chord with parents as they will share Sharon and Mary’s initial shock. But Cheng resolves her story with great care and understanding without judgment, which readers of all ages will undoubtedly appreciate.
Readers: Middle Grade