In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson Book Poster Image
Funny tale of Chinese girl adapting to 1947 Brooklyn life.

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 1 review

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Educational Value

Many references to Chinese culture, stories, language, customs, and holidays enrich this story. References to life in 1947 Brooklyn also are brought to light -- the players on the Brooklyn Dodgers team, the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals teams are also named. Shirley learns how to use tools to help her father, an engineer, take care of their building.

Positive Messages

A rich cultural tradition is valuable wherever you go. Family can understand you, even if you don't use words. New adventures are difficult but exciting. Being an ambassador for your culture can shape goals for your behavior and achievements. Always remember the people who love you, no matter how far away they are. Respect your elders and your teachers. Be proud of your accomplishments, but be humble too.

Positive Role Models

Shirley's family is large and opinionated, but Confucian rules are adhered to, so that elders are respected and honor is the rule of the day. Shirley particularly admires her father, an engineer who has come to America to chase his dreams. He is patient with her mistakes, and he rewards her when he sees how hard she's trying to fit in. Shirley's teacher, Mrs. Rappaport, understands the varied nature of her students' ethnic backgrounds and has compassion for them. 

Violence & Scariness

Shirley imagines being given 100 lashes as a punishment by her grandmother, and she's concerned about what an American policeman would do to her when he found out that she'd been in a schoolyard fight -- "Lock her up? Refuse her water? Maybe even pull her fingernails out?" He ends up sending her home. Two girls get into a fistfight, and one ends up with two black eyes. 

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, first pubished in 1984, is loosely based on author Bette Bao Lord's experience as a child who immigrated from China to Brooklyn, New York, in the late 1940s. Nine-year-old Shirley Temple Wong is from an esteemed family in Chunking, where she's known as Sixth Cousin, or Bandit. Though she fears retribution like being cast out or whipped by the matriarchs when she leaves a game on the floor, causing a servant to trip and fall, there's much love and intimacy among the generations of her clan. In the United States, she buys cigarettes for her dad and her friends at a bodega, and they clap when she returns with them. She hears her friends call each other derogatory names on the stickball field such as "Spaghetti Snot," "Kosher Creep," "Puerto Rican Coconut," and she herself is called "Chop Suey." Her accent is ridiculed, as was typical of that era. When she asks her teacher why her friend Mabel is called "Negro," her teacher patiently explains that people come from different continents and look differently from one another, and that Mabel's family has origins in Africa. Shirley and Mabel, and Shirley's friend Emily Levy, don't let their racial and ethnic differences get in the way of their friendships. Two girls get into a fistfight, and one ends up with two black eyes. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byBarbi W August 6, 2021

Engaging read

I love how books put you in other people’s shoes! This book really helped you understand what it’s like to be new to a country, and start in school when you do... Continue reading

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What's the story?

In IN THE YEAR OF THE BOAR AND JACKIE ROBINSON, a girl in China receives a letter from her father who's ventured to America to search for opportunity. Upon opening the letter, her mother smiles, her grandmother weeps, and her grandfather becomes angry. What could it mean, she wonders? Soon enough, she learns that her father is asking that she and her mother join him in the land across "the four seas." After withstanding more than a month of travel by ship and train, she arrives in Brooklyn, New York. The year is 1947. Where are the rickshaws that transport people to and from? Where are the markets for the cook to buy food? Soon she discovers is that the apartment her father has rented has no cook, no grand courtyard, and no bed for her. Shirley painfully undergoes the cultural transformation that many immigrants experience. She has difficulty with the language and she's amazed by the different types of people, their brazen shows of emotion. She becomes fascinated by this game called baseball that everyone loves, and she suffers utter loneliness as an outsider. Everything is "so foreign!" Will she find friends and a sense of belonging? Will she learn to balance the old and the new? 

Is it any good?

A whimsical and beautifully written book, this rendering of the immigrant experience holds many lessons. Told through the eyes of a fifth-grade girl living in 1947 Brooklyn, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson looks at issues of race and culture from a kid's perspective. Though her classmates tell Shirley Temple Wong to go "back to the laundry," calling her "Chop Suey," Shirley considers herself an ambassador of her culture, and refuses to sink to the kids' level. But after discovering a hero named Jackie Robinson, who burst through race barriers, she feels proud of her new home in this foreign land.

Shirley's memories of her sophisticated heritage begin to blend with the everyday pop of Juicy Fruit gum, the thrilling experience of a neighborhood stickball game, and the sting of a black eye. Kids will like the descriptions of the people who do interesting things -- like Senora Rodriguez's habit of removing her dentures during a piano lesson. They will appreciate Shirley's gumption and grace; she teaches by doing. And her refined pride -- even when she's the butt of a joke -- is a comforting lesson in itself.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how race and ethnicity are dealt with in In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. It's set in 1947, and though Brooklyn, New York, was a melting pot of many ethnicities, main character Shirley Temple Wong notices the differences. How did kids deal with racism then? How do we talk about race now now?

  • Shirley is glued to the radio when her baseball team is playing. Do you get hooked on media when something exciting is going on? How does Shirley's focus on media affect her babysitting duties?

  • How does Shirley keep in touch with her family in China? How would it be different today? How have connection platforms and social media changed the experience of living in a foreign land?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of immigrants and Asian characters

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