Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Year of the Dog

The Year of the Dog
Grace Lin
Little Brown, 2006    134 pgs     Grades 2-5

A semi-autobiographical novel, Year of the Dog traces author Grace Lin's life from one Chinese Lunar New Year to the next.  Grace is excited because in the year of the dog you find your best friend and your life's calling.  The new year's prediction is fulfilled almost immediately when Grace meets Melody, a fellow Taiwanese American new to the school.  The two become instant best friends and share adventures and misadventures together through the year.  Frustrated at not finding her place in the world and struggling with her identity and heritage, Grace writes a book reflecting her Taiwanese-American roots.  To Grace's delight and surprise, the book wins a national contest and Grace has found her calling at last.  The Year of the Dog is interspersed with family stories shared by her mother.  Through Grace's eyes, we catch a glimpse into the daily life of Taiwanese-American culture and are thoroughly entertained along the way.  Grace's story continues with Year of the Rat and Dumpling Days.  Try also, Lin's more challenging Newbery honor book based on Chinese folklore; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and its companion Starry River of the Sky.

The Year of the Dog is a very important book.  It presents the Taiwanese-American experience for children in a very relate-able way.  Not too long, peppered with doodles, and filled with humor, The Year of the Dog reads fast and is a lot of fun.  Grace's accomplishments, disappointments, and crazy family are universal and all children, regardless of their ethnicity will sympathize and cheer along with Grace. I loved the little stories offered by mom.  They add to the narrative, teach sublet lessons and are well placed and not confusing.  I was moved by the part where Grace and Melody go to the library to find books about girls like themselves who were Taiwanese or Chinese American and came up empty handed.  Thank you Grace Lin for writing this book so it can be available for young people at the Fair Lawn Library.  Try Lenore Looks humorous chapter books for similar themes at the same age level or try Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee for a slightly older audience.  I will be using The Year of the Dog this month with my Reader's Rock book group to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year, but the story works for any time of year.  This book can be enjoyed by both girls and boys and would be a great suggestion for reluctant readers.  Xin-nian Kuai le!

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