Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin

In her post Newbery/ Caldecott 2015: The Summer Predictions Edition at A Fuse #8 Production, Elizabeth Bird noticed a trend of doom and gloom in this year's children's books. I've noticed it in the past few years as I've tried to read the Newbery-winning books. There are just a lot more ghosts hanging around in kids' books lately. Things have gotten creepier. I have never really cared for scary books, and some of my kids are very sensitive about these kinds of things. So I was grumping to myself, where are the Beverly Clearys, the Elizabeth Enrights: the folks writing books about ordinary families doing life together and getting into scrapes that usually turn out all right in the end, but doing it with humor and great writing too? My kids love these kinds of books.

Then I was grabbing a big stack of audiobooks at the library that I hoped would appeal to my seven and under crowd, and I picked up The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin. This is exactly what I had been looking for in a book: the modern-day equivalent to those great old-fashioned family books like All-of-a-Kind Family and Betsy Tacy. When the book opens, the family is celebrating the Chinese New Year and the Year of the Dog. Pacey, the middle sister, hopes that this year she will find friendship and find her special talent and purpose in life. The year turns out to be eventful. She meets Melody, the new Chinese-American girl at school, and they become best friends. Together they navigate science fairs, Halloween costumes, writing contests, and Taiwanese-American family life and culture. We especially enjoyed all the stories told by the mother about various family members and growing up in Taiwan.

The reader of the audiobook Nancy Wu is really good. Books written in first person can be tricky. I have a really low tolerance for grown women narrators who try to do a little girl voice. They always seem to end every sentence in up-speak so that the character sounds ditsy even though they're not. Nancy Wu doesn't fall into this trap. She makes Pacey sound just right and does the voices of the other characters like the Chinese parents really authentically too.

After listening in the car, the girls demanded that we take the cd inside so we could finish listening over lunch. Then Ella listened to it again, this time while wearing her Chinese dress, and she asked if we could do a Chinese tea party again.

There's been a rising awareness of the lack of diversity in kids' books. I really hope that the future holds more books like these that give us a glimpse of the ordinary daily life of people from different ethnicities and cultures. We are really looking forward to reading the sequels: The Year of the Rat and Dumpling Days.

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