The Year of the Three Sisters

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
The Year of the Three Sisters Book Poster Image
Chinese girl visits U.S. in powerful friendship tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The text is sprinkled with simple Chinese words and includes a pronunciation guide. There's information about migrant workers in China who come from the countryside to work in urban factories. Throughout, there's clear modeling of writing: Fan keeps a notebook of new English vocabulary words, the girls write each other letters, emails, cards, and write in journals. There's also frequent mention of classic children's books that Anna's reading (The Little Engine That Could, The Snowy Day, and more) or that she picks out for Fan at the library (Charlotte’s Web, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Superfudge), as well as books appropriate for a seventh grader like Anna (To Kill a Mockingbird, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl). Anna's history teacher talks about tracing history through a single product such as sugar, which contributed to the rise of the slave trade. Information on how to make Chinese dumplings.

Positive Messages

People from other cultures may be different from us, but we can try to understand them. It's good to help and include people when they feel like they don't fit in. It helps to talk about your emotions and about conflict or misunderstandings with friends. Reading is fun and pleasurable. Community service is important.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Anna's a sensitive, thoughtful, and accepting friend and a keen observer of her friends' behavior and emotions. She's an avid reader, weaving discussions about books into her narrative and relating them to her own experience. Fan studies hard to learn English so she can help her family. Anna and Andee are in a community service club and do projects to help others. The girls value handmade presents and make Fan a good-bye scrapbook of their experiences together. 

Violence & Scariness

A grandfather in China dies -- a plot point, but not graphic.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Year of the Three Sisters is the fourth book in a well-regarded series for young readers by Andrea Cheng (The Year of the Book). Anna's a Chinese-American seventh grader in Cincinnati, one of only a few Asians in her school. She and a friend invite a young Chinese migrant worker from Beijing to visit for a year, but cultural and class differences make adjustment difficult. Unusually thoughtful and sensitive for a book for young readers, the story addresses cross-cultural differences and issues of friendship. Young readers will relate to this well-written and meaningful story about the challenges of fitting in.

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What's the story?

In THE YEAR OF THE THREE SISTERS, Anna and her friend invite Fan, a young migrant worker from Beijing whom Anna met in a previous book, to their school for a year. Fan has a difficult life in China, and her adjustment to suburban Cincinnati isn't easy, especially when she's intent on studying all the time so she can help her family in China. Anna's sensitive to Fan's feelings and the cultural differences that might divide them, and she narrates her own ups and downs with middle school friendships.

Is it any good?

It's not easy to write an emotionally resonant and thoughtful story in the short format of a young middle grade novel, but The Year of the Three Sisters is a gem. Anna's an observant and sensitive narrator, and readers will relate to concerns about fitting in and friendships. The account of the girls' lives rings true, and the detail grounds them recognizably in Cincinnati -- trips to Graeter's ice cream, collecting buckeyes, mention of distinct Cincinnati neighborhoods. The spot illustrations by Patrice Barton are cheerful and charming and depict a multicultural group of friends, with Anna and other Chinese-American kids and families at the forefront.

The visiting girl from Beijing allows the book to introduce some broader, more socially conscious issues, with information about how the girls' lives differ, both culturally and economically. Frequent mention of the books Anna is reading is another plus.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about cultures and how they differ. How do you think families in China are different from American families? How are they the same?

  • Do you ever feel different or left out? When? Do you think others in your class or school feel that way? What can you do to help them feel included?

  • Are there migrant workers where you live? What kind of work do they do?

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