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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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Our Editors Recommend
Kids' Books About the Immigrant Experience
Books with Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander Characters
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