BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Abigail Halpin

Year of the BookFourth-grader Anna Wang is going through those tortuous tween years. Her longtime best friend Laura is busy chasing after Abigail and Lucy who have more social clout. She’s uncomfortable admitting to friends that her mother cleans homes in “one of those high rises … [w]ith a view of the river” while she’s studying to become a nurse. She wouldn’t mind changing her last name to Anna Brown or Anna Smith, although she realizes that “then my face wouldn’t match my name.” She can’t understand Teacher Zhen in Chinese school and isn’t so thrilled with going to class anyway.

What saves Anna from tough times are books. From My Side of the Mountain to From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler to My Louisiana Sky, Anna is – most of the time – pretty content with her literary companionship. She also keeps some great human company with Ray the crossing guard, Ms. Simmons her teacher, Mr. Shepherd whose apartment her mother cleans on Saturdays, and her new friend Camille at Chinese school. And, in spite of Laura’s fair-weather mistakes, Anna at least realizes (with a bit of nudging from her mother) the importance of being a good friend.

Andrea Cheng, who’s written over a dozen titles for young readers, tells another heartfelt story of growing up Chinese American. Abigail Halpin‘s lithe, whimsical line drawings add just the right feel to Cheng’s sincere, honest words. Although Cheng herself is the child of Hungarian immigrant parents, she’s been APA by affiliation for decades – her husband is Chinese American, their children hapa – and has written multiple books featuring convincing, spunky Chinese American protagonists. In spite of my high regard for Cheng’s work, I admit to being disappointed in finding errors here in her latest, even before the story starts; while I don’t speak Chinese, my aging brain has retained enough kanji from my almost-PhD (in East Asian Literatures and Languages) to recognize Chinese writing mistakes…

At the bottom of the “Pronunciation Guide,” for example, are two characters for ‘happiness’ – or ‘xing fu (幸福).’ Where the first character ‘幸’ should be, is instead “FU” written in English so scrawled as to seemingly (strangely) be mistaken for a Chinese character.  On page 43, the three Chinese words should be translated as ‘pumpkin, black cat, witch’ to match the characters above (which are currently listed erroneously as ‘witch, pumpkin, black cat’).

Do these errors (and no, I didn’t scour the rest of the Chinese characters throughout the book) affect the quality of story? Probably not. Will most readers notice? Again, probably not … unless, like Anna, they, too, are going to Chinese school and working hard to learn their characters (what irony!). That said, given Cheng’s own literary stature, surely her editors could have found one person among over a billion native speakers (and readers) of Chinese to do a quick check …?

Am I wrong to expect this much? I’m just saying …

For more of Cheng’s noteworthy titles on BookDragon, click here.

Readers: Middle Grade

Published: 2012



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