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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.
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?
- Author: Bette Bao Lord
- Illustrator: Marc Simont
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, History, Middle School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date: October 1, 1984
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 176
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: November 13, 2020
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