Ruby Lu, Star of the Show by Lenore Look, illustrated by Stef Choi
If Lenore Look’s East Coast leading man, the delightfully frank Alvin Ho, admits to being afraid of just about everything, his West Coast counterpart, wondergirl Ruby Lu, lets little slow her down. Regardless of their opposite fear factors, both of Look’s bicoastal protagonists are multicultural heroes with close family ties to China; extended relatives keep the cultural connections immediate, even as both Alvin and Ruby navigate their everyday, thoroughly American lives.
In the third installment starring our heroine of 20th Avenue South, Seattle, Washington, Ruby enjoys her first day of third grade, even with a few glitches. As grand as her class and teacher turn out to be, she’s most looking forward to starting dog obedience school with her pooch Elvis. When she triumphantly returns home that afternoon, she finds her father already there – because he’s lost his job. Ruby knows this is bad news from experience: her friend Ally’s mom and Wally’s dad lost their jobs, too.
Not being able to go to dog school is the least of her worries now; the whole extended family is going to have to make some major changes. Ruby’s mother is the first to find work in a shoe store, Ruby’s aunt and uncle recently arrived from China keep looking, and Ruby’s dad becomes the de-facto-at-home-parent for Ruby, cousin Flying Duck, and baby Oscar. Home life becomes increasingly, understandably frustrating and difficult. Ruby’s good friends who make up her 20th Avenue Plum Club are thankfully ready with “lots of good advice for free,” everything from “1. Go to the library” (of course! when the going gets tough, we read!) to “7. Scan some twenty-dollar bills” (uh-oh) to “13. Listen to happy music.”
Look adroitly translates real-life headlines that have affected millions of families, especially since 2008, into a story even young children can understand, especially those who have experienced the many challenges caused by parental unemployment. Look doesn’t shy away from familial strain: Ruby’s father feels defeated and takes to the couch, Ruby’s exhausted working mother is “often crabby,” upcoming holidays are looking bleak without the possibility of costumes and turkey and presents.
Realizing Ruby has little control over the adult world, Look imbues her spunky heroine with just the right amount of imagination and courage to make a few changes of her own. Stef Choi, Look’s new visual collaborator (who seems to have taken over from Anne Wilsdorf of the first two Ruby titles, and re-illustrated the latest reprint editions) complements Ruby’s irrepressible girl power with energetic humor. Both author and artist share the same message: in times of challenge, laughter is most definitely an effective antidote.
Readers: Middle Grade