Cheng, Andrea. 2012. The Year of the Book. Illus. by Abigail Halpin. NY, NY: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN: 9780547684635.
Friendships and life can be difficult, and Anna knows all too well. Being quiet and self-concious she would prefer to curl up with a book than embrace and overcome the challenges that a fourth-grader would face. She's embarrassed by her her mother's still-developing English language sills and job as a hired cleaner, and she doesn't like attending Chinese school where she can't understand what her instructor is saying. Plus, her best friend Laura is now friends with the popular girls in school. However, as the year continues onward Anna begins to open her world to interact more with others like the friendly crossing-guard Ray, the kind widower Mr. Shepherd, a new friend Camille from Chinese school, and she begins to accept how wonderful her family is. Anna even rekindles her friendship with Laura. Throughout the story the readers will recognize familiar titles, which range from picture books like Little Blue and Little Yellow to chapter books like A Wrinkle in Time, that anna will escape into during rough moments. Details of the Chinese culture is seamlessly weaved into the story and is refreshingly real to life, especially for any American Born Chinese children. Chinese language words are introduced, such as Xie xie (thank you), and the occasional characters. Among the first few pages is a Pronunciation Guide for Chinese words and even shows the related characters. Readers will even appreciated Anna's creative side when she creates a Halloween costume, paints, and sews lunch bags. Beyond the semi-coming of age storyline The Year of the Book has deeper stories with Cheng's well-rounded characters such as Laura's coping of her parents rough and sometimes frightening separation as well as the all-too-familiar friendship issues. Abigail Halpin's black and gray illustrations are sprinkled throughout the pages and bring a visual to the reader's imagination of what Anna's watercolor paintings could look like. On the back cover are instructions on how to sew your own lunch bags, which is a great connective activity for the readers. All in all The Year of the Book is simple yet deep little novel that touches on real life that many readers could empathize with and learn that it is OK to escape into a book but to also to open up to others.
- Ask the children to remember what books Anna reads and have them make a list. How many are there in total? Have they read any of those books?
- Ask if they ever felt the emotions that Anna felt.
- Have the children create their own drawstring bags.
- Have the children create their own watercolor paintings.
Read WP-CC's review of the second book The Year of the Baby here!