by Andrea Cheng (Author) Abigail Halpin (Illustrator)
In Chinese, peng you means friend. But in any language, all Anna knows for certain is that friendship is complicated.
When Anna needs company, she turns to her books. Whether traveling through A Wrinkle in Time, or peering over My Side of the Mountain, books provide what real life cannot--constant companionship and insight into her changing world.
Books, however, can't tell Anna how to find a true friend. She'll have to discover that on her own. In the tradition of classics like Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy books and Eleanor Estes' One Hundred Dresses, this novel subtly explores what it takes to make friends and what it means to be one.
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Anna Wang, the narrator of this tender novel, isn't having an easy time navigating fourth grade. Feeling left out when her friend Laura begins hanging out with another girl, Anna takes refuge in her beloved library books. She is proud of her Chinese-born mother, who is going to school to become a nurse, yet embarrassed by her mother's imperfect English and her part-time housecleaning job. Trying to balance her cultural identities, Anna is also conflicted about attending Chinese school and learning that language. Cheng (Only One Year) credibly portrays Anna's budding maturity, as she sets aside her resentment toward Laura and reaches out to her when her family hits a rough patch. Anna's warm rapport with her supportive teacher, a cheerful crossing guard, and a kind widower add emotional depth. Though Anna's musings can grow repetitious, the novel offers a well-rounded portrait of a sympathetic girl and her burgeoning sense of self. Halpin's (The Grand Plan to Fix Everything) tidy halftone pictures help flesh out Anna's world. Ages 6-9. Agent: Elizabeth Harding, Curtis Brown. Illustrator's agent: Emily van Beek, Folio Literary Management. (May)Copyright 2012 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.
Gr 4-6—There is nothing quiet and self-conscious Anna Wong would rather do than lose herself in a book. Cheng weaves a simple story of how the child's inner world, built around the pages of books, shifts outward to include her family, a kind crossing guard, a widower, and a beloved teacher. Most of all, Anna gradually learns to open her heart to the joys and challenges of friendship. The writing is gentle and engaging. Cheng gives readers glimpses into the heart of a girl without the allure of action or adventure. The story doesn't need them. Readers are led to discover the extraordinary within the ordinary, and to witness how kindness can draw trust and create confidence in a hesitant child. Dialogue is natural and uncontrived. Details of Chinese culture are interwoven throughout the story. Anna's mother works hard to acquire English-language skills, learn to drive, hold down a job, and give her children the opportunity to learn Chinese. Her struggles contrast with those of her American-born Chinese husband. Anna's friend's sad tale of family breakdown is also a part of the story, and children experiencing similar difficulties will relate to Laura's grief and fear. Anna creates hand-sewn lunch bags, and she and Laura make bags for all the people who are special to them. (Instructions are on the book jacket.) Readers will not find chills and thrills in this book, but they will discover the value of empathy and compassion, and the rewards of tolerance and friendship.—Corrina Austin, Locke's Public School, St. Thomas, Ontario, CanadaCopyright 2012 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.