Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Year of the Book

Fourth grade is tough. Especially when your best friend deserts you to hang out with a budding fashionista. Anna Wang also has problems on the home front--her mother's less than perfect English and her part-time job cleaning apartments cause Anna's cheeks to flame. On weekends, there's Chinese school, where Anna isn't exactly shining. Her way of coping with all the stress is to bury her head in a book, a familiar strategy for many bibliophiles.

As the school year progresses, Anna gains insight into her own and other people's problems. She makes a new friendship with a girl from Chinese school, who has a learning disability, and reconnects with Laura, her best friend. Laura's parents are separating and Anna experiences the turmoil firsthand during a sleepover when Laura's father barges into the Wang household, demanding to see his daughter.

Throughout the year Anna reads and reads and reads. Many books teach her empathy, as good books do. Twain's The Prince and the Pauper causes her to wonder what if would be like to switch places with Laura and have to deal with one's parents splitting up. Kimberly Willis Holt's My Louisiana Sky helps her understand how much she loves her mother just as she is. For Halloween, a favorite picture book, Leo Lionni's Little Blue and Little Yellow, is the inspiration for her costume.

Author Andrea Cheng is careful to show how Anna also uses reading as a shield. She reads walking home from school and in social situations, such as during recess when she takes out her book rather than play tetherball or soccer. As the months pass, Anna occasionally chooses not to read but rather to play with a friend. And even the most confirmed book lover will cheer for her.

The Year of the Book
by Andrea Cheng
illustrations by Abigail Halpin
Houghton Mifflin, 160 pages
Published: May 2012

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