Sunday, November 29, 2009

Year of the Dog

Biblio Bits The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin, Little, Brown, and Co., 2006 (ISBN 9780316060004)

Reading Level/Interest Age 690 lexile/Ages 9-12

Genre Realistic Fiction, Humor

Plot Summary
It's the Year of the Dog, by the Lunar Calendar, and Grace's Taiwanese-American family is ringing in the new year! Grace has two sisters and the family lives in upstate New York; Grace's family is the only Chinese-American family in her community and at Grace's school. But wait, is she Chinese-American or Taiwanese American? Or both? This is a question that Grace herself puzzles over. Though Grace knows she's different, her classmates and teacher are supportive and inclusive of her ethnic and cultural heritage. One day, a new girl comes to school and she's also Taiwanese-American. Melody and Grace become fast friends who share many interests, like music, writing, and art. They team up for the class science fair and try an experiment with plants: they plant four pea seeds and water each one with a different liquid to see how the plants grow. Unfortunately their scientific method is not quite perfect and their results are skewed. When the girls get an assignment that combines art and language arts, to write and illustrate their own book for a national competition, Grace is stumped for an idea that is original. Will Grace discover her own inner talent this year, which is one of the possibilities in the Year of the Dog?

Critical Evaluation
Lin has created an engaging narrative in this semi-autobiographical work. This was the type of book that she wanted to read as a young girl, since none of the books she had access to were about people like her. Lin has peppered the text with lovely black and white illustrations. The story is occasionally interspersed with other stories, such as How Grandpa Got Rich, and Mom Sleeps in School. These stories-within-a-story help to provide round out the story of Grace's family and their experiences while living in Taiwan. There is a lot of cultural information here, but it's wrapped in an appealing story of a "regular" American girl who wants the lead role in the school play, who wants to fit in with her peers, and who wants to be able to be herself. Grace's narrative shows that she is beginning to understand who she is, both within and outside of the bounds of her ethnic and cultural heritage.

Reader's Annotation
The Year of the Dog is supposed to be about finding yourself and learning what your special talents are. But Grace doesn't win the science competition and she doesn't get the part she wants in the school play, so what's left for her?

Author Information
Grace Lin grew up in upstate New York with her two sisters and parents. Though she wanted to be a professional ice skater, she was much better at drawing herself as a professional ice skater. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design and began illustrating children's books. This book was Lin's debut as an author/illustrator for older children. She currently lives in Somerville, MA, with her husband. (Information in this author biography is from this site)

Challenge issues
Pretty innocent story here and not much to object to. Unless you might have someone who thinks that the library should only have books about WHITE Americans. (A troubling thought!)

Booktalking Ideas
This would be another great book to include in a booktalk on diversity and families. What makes our familieis different? What makes our families the same? Other titles might include Drita My Homegirl (Lombard, 2006), Granny Torrelli Makes Soup (Creech, 2003), Sahara Special (Codell, 2003), and How Tia Lola Came to (Visit) Stay (Alvarez, 2001).

Curriculum Ties
What are those stories that we hear over and over again in our families? The Time Sylvan Sleepwalked and Peed on the Floor, or When Jonas Almost Rolled Off the Doctor's Examining Table, or The Time the Thanksgiving Table Collapsed, or Things That Poppie Has Left Behind and Driven Away From By Mistake. Students could identify, collect, and write down some of these stories that exist in their own families. It could be a great writing project to give just before the winter break, that way students could review those stories with relatives and jot down a rough draft or notes.

Why this book?
Like Drita My Homegirl (Lombard, 2006) this book packs a big message about diversity. Though we may have different cultural heritages, our strengths are in the qualities we share in our relationships with friends and family.

This book is followed by The Year of the Rat (2008).

ALA Notable Children's Books, Middle Readers Category, 2007; BookList Editors' Choice, Books for Youth, Middle Readers, 2006.

Rockport Public Library owns?

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