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Just in time for Chinese New Year comes The Year of the Rat, by Grace Lin. My nine-year-old cousin should have received her copy by now!
Happy Chinese New Year! Of all the books I want to review, I have the perfect one to start!
Grace Lin's The Year of the Rat is the sequel to her debut middle grade novel, The Year of the Dog (which I was completely gaga about). Once again Pacy's modern-day, American, grade school experiences, triumphs, and discoveries are peppered throughout with little stories and anecdotes told by her family: of their childhoods back in Taiwan, of their earlier years in the U.S., and of a lot of Chinese fables familiar to my heart. Plus there are these delightful line drawings. The emotional stakes are raised this time when Pacy's best friend Melody moves away to California. Pacy's cultural self-awareness evolves, too, ever so gently and truthfully, when a new Chinese family (from China) moves into Melody's very home, with a boy Pacy's age whose grade-school experiences in the U.S. seem not so rosy as her own.
I also related to Pacy's growing concern over her family's attitude toward her ambitions an an artist. Her triumphs with the class poster. Her crush. Her experience of a Taiwanese American wedding. Her return to her pre-Melody friends. Her decision with Melody to share their beloved book collection by actually mailing their books to and from California every month. All the words I've seen other reviewers use for these books--"gentle," "engaging," "lively," "magical,"--I heartily echo, and I love the simple language, too. I can't wait to hear what my little cousin has to say.
I sent my little cousin The Year of the Dog last fall, by the way, and this was her review (via e-mail):
Thanks for the book The Year of the Dog. I finished it in the first two nights. It was a great book except for one editing mistake.
What! Luckily, I saw my cousin a couple weeks later and got to find out exactly what she was talking about. First she said, "Oh, it was more just like a typo." Then she explained that a certain Chinese fable mentioned in it had been titled one way, when really it was another.
I've heard that story told a few different ways, so this wasn't a "mistake" in my book. But I was glad to see her treating the content with such authority. (She's this genius whose reading/writing progress knocks me out every next time I see her. I've no doubt her next review will be several pages long.)The Year of the Rat
has gotten me thinking this is going to be an excellent year for making Changes. Just as I was pondering the possibilities, my husband said, “Let’s resolve to make one piece of art each, this year, and put it up."
Cool! I'm up for anything!
piece of art? That’s such a small goal. (An excellent, doable, lovely goal.) Maybe I’ll make five. But maybe I’ll start with just one (and maybe four more will follow).
I was going to end this book review here, but Year of the Rat
actually gives me an unintentional transition to the next book on my list:
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O'Brien. Winner of the 1972 Newbery Medal.Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH!!
I recently revisited this classic when Sara
reminded me of its awesomeness.
Read this, read this, you must
Oh, those poor rats of NIMH. Oh, oh. They never even said what NIMH stood for. You have to make it up [edit
: or figure it out for yourself
]. And that is just one tiny example of the genius at work here, because even though these pages are jam-packed with informative, evocative, smartly written details (on locations! Action!! Story! Backstories! The goals of the rats of NIMH!), everywhere you look, there is room for your imagination to fill in more. What Jonathan Frisby saw in Mrs. Frisby (she was clearly a remarkable mouse). The hints at Justin’s future. The fact you don’t know . . . so many things you want to know. What you think you know. What you hope you know. You’re left wanting to go
there, to find out the rest for yourself.
Oh, oh, oh.
I was aware as I was reading that some of my intense bond with these rats (and mice!!) was underscored by association with my equally intense love for Flowers for Algernon,
by Daniel Keyes--a book I pushed on my brother when he was in 7th grade (and I was in 10th) that he read all in one night. (I'm actually reading The Wednesday Wars,
by Gary D. Schmidt, right now, and there are rats in that book, too. Goodness!)
I have a lot more books to review, but I like this beginning to the Year of the Rat. We now return to our regular posting schedule of (maybe) once a week.
With love for books!
you to read these books.
It is my hope, once you’ve read these books, that we can talk about them in-depth. Preferably in person!
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Thank goodness I'm Chinese.
The window of opportunity between New Year's and Chinese New Year has always given me an excellent, extra grace period in which to ramp up for the new year, and I always need it. Damon has three families, all of whom have super intense holiday traditions, plus my family does Christmas, too. By the time January 1st comes, I am worn. Out. It takes all my energy every year not to become a Bah, Humbug.
(I love the actual people in these families, which is what ends up saving me.)
Some years, if Damon and I don’t get to do holiday cards, we send out Chinese New Year cards instead. I always like to take this time to clear my “debts” (here redefined to include whatever things I still want to finish in the old year), clean my house (literally and figuratively), brainstorm resolutions, and go!
This year, I've decided housecleaning includes this blog. That is why, with the Year of the Rat only a couple days away, I'm going to blog about Christmas.
Christmas was actually not as long ago for me as it was for you. Damon's three families did the whole thing on time, but my family just did Christmas two weeks ago, with the meal and everyone and presents. For ritual, we just have four stockings—unmarked and unpersonalized—tacked over the fireplace very gingerly, in a way that won’t support any weight. Those stockings represent me, my brother, and our two spouses.
The stockings always look sad and empty, and two of them aren’t even “stockings”; they’re red-and-green velvet wine bags that my parents got at some holiday party. (The wine bags actually look nicer than the other two, “real” stockings we got for $1.99 apiece from a drugstore twenty years ago, so even though I make fun of them, I appreciate them, too.) These stockings excite little interest in my brother and me every year, which disappoints my mom—every year. She always has to urge us to go look, and when we do, invariably, there are red envelopes waiting inside, each containing 50 bucks—sometimes 60—in crisp 10- and 20-dollar bills.
“Ohhh!!!” my brother and I and our spouses always say, surprised all over again. “Thanks, Mom!”
“Don’t thank me!”
Thank you, Santa!!
This year, after so many years of her hinting, “Santa might have left your something. Don’t you want to look?”
we finally knew what to expect. The four of us gamely went over to the fireplace and did a whole round of, “Heyy! Here’s one for you! And here’s one for you!” handing out red envelopes, my mom beaming on.
Then, at the end of the night, we discovered that one of the envelopes was short.
(One of the stockings had 40
dollars, not 60.
“MAMA CLAUS! MAMA CLAUS!” three of us sounded the alarm, my brother protesting and laughing the whole time (“It's not a big deal!”). My mother came running. I don’t think she liked the “Mama Claus” moniker much, but she liked our message even less. “One of the stockings is 20 dollars short!”
“What?! NO!!” She looked aghast, her eyes growing huge.
"I put it back!!"“Busted! So
busted!!" we howled. "Dipping into the Christmas stockings!” But my mother was adamant, taking the red envelope jointly in my brother’s hands. “Are you sure you looked? Look again!” Accusing my brother of total incompetence. And lo and behold . . .
“Oh! OH!” my brother cried out, whipping out a crisp twenty. “A-HAHHAHA! It was stuck in the lining!”
We were dying.
Why is my family always like this?
“Awwww,” my mom said, shamefaced. “Why’d you trick me to confess? I needed cash one day,” she confided, now triumphant. “But it didn't make sense. I took much more than twenty.”A recent blog entry
by my friend Julie
gave me food for thought on the cultural mishmosh of our lives. She mentioned, just in passing, that Santa Claus brings presents for her two (soon to be three!) kids. “Believing in the chubby bearded guy was Kevin's tradition growing up, not mine, but the kids hear about Santa from school, daycare, and pop culture, and I don't see any harm in it, so we're preserving the tradition as long as the kids keep believing,” she said.
That’s all she said, but it was the first time I’d ever considered the Santa dilemma from the us-as-parents'
point of view. Usually, I think of it from the kids’ perspective. (Santa still leaves me
presents, after all—at three
households these days, no less—and with very different cultural implications at each. The Santa that brings socks and underwear is different from the Santa that individually wraps little toys and chocolates, who is different from the Santa with the red envelopes.)
When I think about the Santa dilemma, I always think back to the raging debate I first heard in the halls outside my first grade classroom, back in the day. Some of my classmates argued—violently, ganging up with each other—that Santa wasn’t real; others still believed.
I don’t remember actively believing in Santa as a small
child, myself. I don't think I'd even considered the question up until that point. Presents from Santa appeared in my house, too, but without a lot of fanfare, and for some reason I'd never been that curious. So when I heard my classmates arguing—with all the scorn and hope that came on both sides—I felt neutral. Unsurprised. I hadn’t put that much thought into it, but the explanation (“my dad says it’s all
our parents!”) suddenly made sense.
I mean, I might have been a little
disappointed. Shocked, upset. It wasn’t like I was looking
to be randomly disillusioned that day. But no one was paying attention to my reaction at that moment, so I was able to take my struggling emotions home in peace. And let's be honest: My parents never tried that
hard to make it real. The “From Santa” tags were always written in their
handwriting—something I was quick to point out in subsequent years. (Occasionally, after that, however, random un
labeled presents would also
appear under the tree without
“From Santa” tags, which would “surprise” my parents. This became a new source of aggravation for me.)
The darnedest thing was that my parents never gave it up, either. Just look at the stocking story I just told: my mom balked at us calling her Mama Claus. Even now, when Santa’s not bringing us wrapped presents anymore, you’ll never get her to say
Santa’s not real.
I could get any of Damon’s parents to say it, in spite of how elaborately they do it up.)
I went through a phase in 2nd grade—and off and on even through 4th grade—when I was hellbent on proving
Santa wasn’t real. I ransacked the house to find where extra presents or extra gift wrap might be hidden. I never found gifts, but I did
eventually find extra rolls of wrapping paper that matched Santa's—hidden high-up in a closet in the guest bedroom. My parents were completely bland about it, admitting nothing.
I remember the wild, irrational hope coming to me at times during that campaign—long after
the early years when I neither believed nor felt the issue was important. In that 2nd-through-4th-grade phase, it suddenly became
important. I needed
to prove it. Suddenly, I was going to make
them say it.
But othertimes, because I couldn’t—and because they wouldn't
—I’d still think, Could it be . . . ?
And something huge
in me would grow, irrational.
If I had a kid today, would I
play Santa Claus? Would I—could I—dare to not?
I don’t know.
(Maybe my kids will have to be extra good, and I'll just hope irrationally along with them!)
I do have this philosophy that love—and magic—is created when two or more people play a game using the same special rules and definitions.
But that is a blog entry for another time.
What do you guys think/ remember/ plan to do—about Santa Claus?
Here are the books I've loved lately, that have graduated from my To-Read list to my To-Buy (or Just-Bought!) list.
First, the Middle Grades and YAs:
Getting Near To Baby,
by Audrey Couloumbis (MG). 2000 Newberry Honor Book. In addition to drawing me into a cast of characters, every one of whom I rooted for, each chapter's end gave me that fine feeling of having read a poetic short story.The Year of the Dog,
by Grace Lin (MG). Absolutely charming and magical, in the tradition of those Carolyn Haywood
books we all loved growing up (the Betsy and Eddie books!), but starring Chinese Americans! Got one in paperback for my little cousin, one in hardback for me.Ironside,
by Holly Black (YA fantasy). Awesome. I heard Holly Black speak recently at San Diego Comic Con in a panel on YA villains, and she talked about her interest in creating cultures clearly alien to our own. Everyone who'd read any of her three modern faerie tales bobbed their heads enthusiastically to hear her say it.The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl,
by Barry Lyga (YA). Deftly handled, with all the subtle (yet extreme) tensions and characters clearly delineated. And funny(!), though I feel odd saying so. Recommended in particular for Calvin, because the voice reminded me of his.
(I also got the two books mentioned in my last book roundup:
. And for the record, I loved
, but we can never talk about it [online].)
I should probably mention that, while my apartment is always overflowing with library books, I only bring up books here I've loved enough to put down funds and buy.
That requires extreme
love. (It also means there are lags between book posts, as I can't buy the books I love all that fast.)
Regarding picture books, I try (sadly, unsuccessfully) to limit the number in my personal collection. But I'm always
excited to buy them for friends. It's one of the key reasons I get excited when friends have babies! ;D (Sounds like a Discovery Channel show: When Friends Have Babies.
And on that note, here are the latest picture books to have stolen my heart:
Not a Box,
by Antoinette Portis. Um. Everyone needs this book. This is a picture book in its purest, most joyful form. Kids will relate and want this again and again. (I've already "handsold" a couple in bookstores to friends, haha.) "It's not a box!"Bee-bim Bop!,
by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Ho Baek Lee. Genius! (again!) The fun of the words, the fun of the dish, the worlds of the grocery store and kitchen prep and dinner table evoked by the illustrations. See that cover? This book speaks to you and will make you bop.The Snowy Day,
by Ezra Jack Keats. 1963 Caldecott Medal winner. Everyone also needs this
book. A classic for every good reason. I don't know how I could have not known about it sooner. Utterly engaging and engrossing to the senses.I'd Really Like To Eat A Child,
by Sylviane Donnio, illustrated by Dorothee De Monfried. Translated from the French original, Je mangerais bien un enfant.
Actually, I'm not sure everyone needs this book. I
need this book—for the sheer audacity of the premise and the fun way the cocky main character is drawn, which paid off every time
I read this. My current strategy is to show this off to everyone in person and see whether they need their own, too. J'adore.
Vicki! Lynn! Help!)
And now, Robert's Snow:
In (partial) reference to my last post, it turns out there is
something a blogger can do—in a bloggerly fashion—to express sympathy and show support to a blogging friend. At least, there is in the case of Grace Lin,
whose husband Robert Mercer passed away on August 27.
Robert's Snow is the amazing fundraiser the couple created in 2004, which to date has raised over $200,000 for cancer research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. So, first of all, you can buy the original Robert's Snow
picture book; you can buy Robert's Snowflakes,
the book which commemorates pieces from the first Robert's Snow snowflake auction in 2004; you can give money
in the name of "Robert's Snow"; or you can bid in this year's Robert's Snow snowflake auction
to get your own unique piece of artwork—a wooden ornament decorated by a children's book artist—all for this tremendous cause. Over 200 incredible children's book authors and illustrators are contributing snowflakes this year. (You can view the 2005 snowflakes here
and 2004 snowflakes here.
They are stunning.
There are even sculptures!)
favorite author/illustrators created snowflakes? I bet they have. Look them up!
You can sort the 2004 and 2005 contributors alphabetically!EDIT to the original post:
You can now go here
to view the 2007 snowflakes, as well as years' past! Go, go, go!
It is ama
zing. You want a snowflake.
Second, if you've got a blog, you can promote
Robert's Snow and the snowflake auction. In fact, thanks to the good people at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast,
bloggers can now sign up to feature from one to five of this year's Robert's Snowflakes artists, on their blogs. 7-Imp is organizing the list, and it'll be a cross-posting extravaganza, with everyone clicking to learn more about artists and snowflakes, and all traffic driven to the auction itself. Click here
to read more and sign up!
I first heard about this on Jo Whittemore's blog,
followed immediately by the next several
blogs I read. Spread the word, everyone!
I know several people whose lives have been touched by cancer recently, quite profoundly. I am often at a loss about what I can do. Well, here is one thing.
So this is my second SCBWI Summer Conference-related post. I've been meaning to post this for a while.
Lisa Yee's Monday afternoon keynote: "Ethnic Diversity in Literature: Should Who You Are Determine What You Write?"
As usual, Lisa Yee kept her audience in stitches
I was especially looking forward to Lisa Yee's talk on this all weekend because, about a year ago, I had left a comment on Lisa Yee's blog
that touched on the fact her characters were Asian American. Then I'd freaked out an hour later and deleted it instantly. I was hoping this talk would enlighten me as to whether I could have left that comment up or not.
This is highly unorthodox, seeing as how Lisa Yee and I are LJ neighbors (as is Linda Sue Park from my last post,
for that matter), but I can tell you exactly what that comment said. I'm going to post it again now, in this blog.
Hi, Lisa Yee,
Last night I was reading Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time when my husband asked what the book was about. I said, "Oh! This is Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time, by Lisa Yee! It's the sequel to Millicent Min, Girl Genius, which won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award at the SCBWI conference a couple years ago. It's a really interesting way to do a sequel, too, because it takes place during the same time as the first book but follows the point of view of one of the other main characters, so you can really see all the places where the stories connect."
My husband looked at me blankly.
So then I said, "It's about an Asian boy who's really good at basketball and gets the cute, white girl."
Suddenly he reached for the book. "Really??" he said.
You really know your audience. ;)
Thanks for this,
I wrote this comment, and it seemed pretty funny to me. Then I went into my kitchen and made tea. Suddenly I found myself racing back to my computer and deleting the comment posthaste. What was I doing?? What was I thinking??
I didn't know where Lisa Yee stood when it came to Asian American identity! Who was I to be all, wink, wink, nudge, nudge
?? If there's one thing working on Cooleyville
had taught me, it's that no two Asian Americans are at the same place when it comes to what can be joked about and what can't. I didn't know if Lisa Yee shared any of the same cultural assumptions as me. I didn't know what cultural assumptions her readers were bringing to her blog.
Had I just revealed too much about myself??
Could I have left that comment up or not?
Well, now I've listened to Lisa Yee's talk, and in terms of the comment, I still don't know. I totally related to everything she said—delivered in her endlessly hilarious, truest-truth way—and most especially the way she introduced herself as having "only become Chinese recently." Everyone
cracked up over that—except, perhaps, me. I didn't laugh out loud, because in that moment I was struck by knowing exact
ly what that meant. At one point I'd definitely felt more Chinese in a hurry, and that's exactly how I'd expressed it, too.
Once upon a time a friend tried to relate to me on the level that we were both minorities, and I had to confess that growing up Asian American in Orange County meant I had never felt marginalized. Which is not to say I felt marginalized later; but after a certain life-changing summer program in Taiwan and all the new friends I'd made and the Chinese pop music and my sudden willingness to speak Chinese (which I can do, if you trick me), I grew a lot more aware of how I thought about The Issues. I remembered thinking at the time (and it was definitely funny to think this way) that I'd become a lot more Chinese than I'd been, say, six months earlier. And once the process began, it never stopped.
I love that.
I'm not going to say this is "just like" how Lisa Yee's awareness heightened during reaction to her first book. (She started out thinking she had written a mainstream book with Millicent Min,
and the reviewers seemed to agree, but her thinking was challenged when it was proposed they change the ethnicity of the character for a TV show.)
Her talk got me flashing back all over the place, so that half of me was taking in everything she said, and half of me was remembering and thinking exactly how it must be.
Afterward, I still didn't know whether I should have posted the comment. Actually, now that I look at it, I'm sure I shouldn't have. There are too many ways it could have been misinterpreted. But I spent so much time thinking about it, I decided to go ahead and post the whole thing here.
For anyone interested, here is what I meant.
All the Asian American guys I
know are obsessed with basketball. They love to play, they love to watch, and, most especially, they love to play.
They play all the time, as much as they can, which is multiple times a week even now, when we're near our mid-thirties. They're very much like their junior high and high school selves that way. In fact, when we were out of college I used to make fun of my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and his friends for thinking it was okay to wear basketball shorts all the time,
even to the grocery store, which is not how I'd ever thought my "dream guy" would dress.
(They don't do this anymore, but they still deny there's anything wrong with it.)
So I didn't for one second question the truth of Lisa Yee's depiction of Stanford Wong that
way. I didn't even realize how
refreshing it was to see that in print until I'd made the comment aloud to Damon. Once I had,
however, I was like, Huh!
So the first misinterpretation I'd want to avoid would be if someone thought I'd meant making an Asian guy a jock was an "original," "creative" idea, i.e. going against type. No, that's not what I meant. The type is so natural to me—with basketball in particular—I didn't even realize it was missing from children's books until Lisa Yee wrote Stanford Wong. claps hands
The second half was acknowledging that most Asian American guys I know have a common, grudging awareness that Asian males, in media,
are never depicted as getting the girl—most especially if the girl is a white, romantic lead. Asian males can be good or bad guys, usually cast in minor roles (if they can get those); and my friends are fairly divided over whether they like seeing themselves depicted as scientists or doctors. (Of course, you can think up isolated, sort-of exceptions to this "never" rule, which we can spend all day debating.)
In my comment, I wasn't saying Lisa Yee was acknowledging or bucking or doing anything deliberate regarding this issue. In the book, it's not
an issue. Stanford and Emily like each other. My comment was meant as gentle ribbing over how an Asian American guy might take an interest in knowing this "miraculous" event had been depicted in a book.
In a successful, popular
But that's a lot to expect people to get from my comment. The worst interpretation would be if people thought I meant my husband had an undue interest in white women. Good grief.
I saw Lisa Yee at the conference, and we've met a few times, so I meant to ask her about this in person (after I heard her talk). But she was so
besieged with fans right up to the very end of the autograph party, I didn't have the heart to take up her time with such a long, potentially vague question.
I guess I wanted to know if she would have known what I meant—and whether she ever thinks of Stanford Wong as giving Asian American male
readers what they've been missing. I know she said she didn't become aware of herself as "an ethnic writer" until reception of her first book—and that she had
become aware by the time she wrote Stanford Wong.
That's when she brought out the theme of Stanford's resentment of Millicent for playing to smart Asian type, for example (which I greatly enjoyed). But these other points of Stanford's character—the basketball, the struggling in school, the getting the girl; and even the resentment of Millicent—were already set in place by the end of the first book. So does she think of these other
Or is that all so natural, she still doesn't?
I'm just curious.
(No, it doesn't actually matter.)
had seen my comment on Lisa Yee's blog, and had not read any of what I just wrote, would you
have known what I meant?
Would you have made one of the misinterpretations I suggested above?
I should probably mention—
When I say "Asian," in this post, I mean Asian American. I don't usually say the whole thing. In the context of my
s just implied.
You know, that last entry ("If Damon and I Lived In Springfield") about the Simpsons and unofficial Cooleyville tagline ("If the Simpsons were Asian and lived in South Park, you'd have Cooleyville") got me thinking. Suddenly I remembered:
Damon and I have been drawn as South Park characters before, too!
I totally forgot! Tony W did it for our wedding cartoon!
Character designs by Tony Wang in 2002. He modeled the heads after our kid pictures. Then, after getting feedback that they reminded people of South Park, he took the resemblance all the way and designed the bodies and cartoon to suit. It turned out great!
I would upload the full cartoon, which is short and entertaining, but I don't know how. The cartoon is in flash, and we played the music separately at the time. Now I would want to upload the music and visuals together.
Technical advice, anyone?
Drat you, Julie. I saw your avatars on Flickr and before I knew it, I was at the Simpsons Movie Web site, too, making my own! Not only did I do one of me, I made one of Damon. Then I made one of Damon from before our South America trip last fall.
Damon after spending three months in South America,
Damon for the first 31 years of his life.
Go to www.simpsonsmovie.com to make your own!
As you can see, he came back greatly changed.
It's funny, because last year I was involved with a sit com I heard people describe as, "If the Simpsons lived in South Park and were Asian, you'd have Cooleyville."
(Another tagline I liked was "We can be dysfunctional, too.") The main character I played was not drawn after me, yet some people felt moved to believe it. (I'm gonna take that as a compliment and leave it at that.)
The Web site is up at Cooleyville.tv. Maybe someday the show will get picked up again!
First of all, everyone head over to Alvina's blog post from last night and tell me what you think. Is this true? Have you heard of this?
If you haven't heard of this—as I hadn't, and as my resident Ask Everything Expert has already told me he also hadn't—then let's just contain this right here by not spreading it on. I don't want to start a rumor of a "phenomenon" that isn't. It's too upsetting.
Second, Alvina's story reminded me of a couple incidents from my own life, one of which is quirky and the other which just makes me angry—even now, a couple years later. MAN, it makes me mad!! (I'm not sharing that second one; ask me in person sometime.) (Well, when it comes to angry stories, I have more than just one.)
Once, I was at a gay dance bar (mostly Asian) with a couple friends (hi, Irvin! hi, Karen who is straight like me!) when a (white) (gay??) man went way out of his way to come up and tell me how attractive he found not only me but all Asian people and that this wasn't a fetish at all because he had a best friend who was Malaysian. Then my friends and I watched as this person proceeded to be all over a fairly unattractive Asian drag queen for the rest of the night. I couldn't help but wonder whether the man had mistaken me for a drag queen, too.
Third, me loves "Joy at the Gym" stories! Damon wrote a good one, a little while back, and now Irvin has written a hilarious one, too! I don't know why, but gym stories are great. Click on theirs and check 'em out!