105 Ways to Give a Book

The Year Of The Rat

Today the third graders at my daughters’ school celebrate Chinese New Year, bringing in with style the Year of the Rat. They all made Chinese dragons that they will proudly parade around the halls of the school, leaving a trail behind them, I’m sure, of cardboard pieces, tissue paper, gold glitter, and the occasional Froot Loop. I wish I had thought to take a picture of my daughter’s work of art before she took it to school yesterday. Imagine a four-foot-long yellow snake made out of cardboard, but standing up on the curves with the help of oversized dragon feet. Add a folded shield head at the end of the snake, and for the real oomph, a row of yellow and orange tissue paper tufts and gold... sticking-out things with coiled wire and stars. It’s a beauty.

The third graders will make crafts of red envelopes and Chinese lanterns. They’ll have the opportunity to taste dumplings and other foods. It’s an exciting day for them. But it brings to mind something I read on the blogs a long time ago, maybe even Chinese New Year last year. Is it good for kids to expose them to these stylized traditions of a culture, leaving them, perhaps, with one technicolored image of the county instead of a fuller understanding?

I see the point in this discussion topic. China isn’t all parades and pandas. Mexico isn’t the hat dance and tacos. And ideally schools would be able to go into more detail on any topic they introduce so that they can provide a deeper understanding of the culture and nation. But I think that it’s better to present some aspect of other countries and other cultures, because it plants the seed of curiosity in their young minds. At the very least, all the kids learn that other people have other ways of doing things. At best some of the kids will be inspired to learn more.

The Year of the RatAnd there’s a book ready for those kids, Grace Lin’s sequel book, The Year of the Rat.

Pacy is celebrating Chinese New Year with her family and cousins and learning about the Year of the Rat, a year of great changes. Unfortunately for Pacy, one of these changes will involve the loss of her best friend when Melody moves away. Pacy is distraught, and sees the new Chinese family that takes over Melody’s house as the enemy. It doesn’t help when the new boy, Dun-Wei, is instantly linked to her at school as the only other Asian kid there. She doesn’t want to like him and resents being thought of as friends just because they are both Chinese. Pacy also finds it hard to fall back into sync with her old friends, now that Melody is gone. How will she make it through this year of changes?

The Year of the Rat is as wonderful as Lin’s first book in this series, The Year of the Dog. The reader can identify with the childhood crisis of a best friend moving and can root for Pacy and Melody to keep up their friendship long distance. Lin weaves in elements of Taiwanese-American culture, including Pacy’s questions of identity as Chinese, Taiwanese, or American. For kids who want to learn more about customs — maybe after coming off a school-sponsored, Chinese New Year extravaganza — this book will take them far while being a pleasant journey all the way.

Fans of Grace Lin may also check out the entry at Blue Rose Girls about two of her books making the Washington Post! I was also moved by Grace’s personal feelings about the Year of the Rat, both the book and the year itself. She’s also talking about her other new book over at Seven Impossible Things today. Happy Grace Day!


Anonymous said...

I agree with you that something is better than nothing, and that the celebration of a holiday like this may help children of Chinese descent feel that their culture is recognized and (to a small extent) valued.

But you are also right that it is not enough. Yet in this melting pot country, it would be difficult to go in-depth into all the cultures and countries that have contributed to make the U.S. what it is today. Would a week on China be enough? A month? Is China more important than Italy? Guatemala? Senegal? The mind boggles. And so, I end up where I started: something is better than nothing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great book recommendation. I married into a Chinese family and feel ill prepared to teach my children about their rich cultural heritage. I'll be checking this book out.

I agree something is better than nothing. Ultimately it is up to us as mothers to teach our children all that we would like them to know.

I've just entered the world of blogging and I love your blog! I look forward to many more great posts. Thanks!

Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

Hmmm. It's a good question, and one I struggle with myself in my own writing. Of course I would agree that something is better than nothing, but I think we can challenge ourselves to do more, at least at home, at the library, at the bookstore. There are a LOT of picture books out there that feature multicultural folktales, festivals, and foods; those are wonderful, but thankfully I'm starting to see a wider variety of multicultural themes, and books featuring contemporary kids (like Grace Lin's, which I loved) living in the US or abroad .

Leo (my second-grader) had a parade today, too! Post forthcoming (tomorrow, I hope). thanks for bringing this up!