fiction favorites…In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, by Bette Bao Lord, illustrations by Marc Simont

“Good morning, Grandmother,” [Bandit] whispered, still keeping her eyes on Grandmother’s feet.  They were very tiny, like little red peppers.
“Look at me, child.  I have something important to say…Granddaughter, today is one of the saddest days in my long life, in all our lives.  You, my sixth grandchild, must go away, far away…”
“Grandmother,” she begged.  “Let  me have another chance.  I will be careful.  I will never, ever, as long as I live, break another thing during the holidays.  I promise.  Please don’t send me away.”
“What are you talking about?  I am not sending you away.  You are going away because your father has sent for you and your mother.  He has decided not to return to Chungking.  He plans to make America his home.  Your grandfather has agreed.”
The letter!  No wonder Mother had smiled, Grandmother had cried and Grandfather had been so angry.  Oh, Father, she thought.  At long last, we’ll be together again!  Bandit could not help smiling.
Then all the women of the House of Wong gathered around to fuss over her.
“Oh, you poor thing!” they cried. “What’s to become of you?”
“Exiled like a criminal to a distant land.”
“With no clan to nurture you.  Surrounded by strangers.”
“And those cowboys and Indians.  What kind of place is that for a child to grow up in?  Dodging bullets and arrows?”
“You’ll starve!  Imagine eating nothing but warm puppies and raw meat!”
“How will you become civilized?  America does not honor Confucius.  America is foreign, so foreign.”
On and on they went, wailing like paid mourners at a funeral.  But Bandid was not afraid.  She had faith in her father.  Nothing awful will happen, she told herself.  No bad luck.  The Year of the Boar would bring travel, adventure and double happiness.

Bandit, also known as Sixth Cousin, is about to get a new name and a new home in a completely new world.  Taking on the most American-sounding name she can think of, Shirley Temple Wong, she says goodbye to her beloved Chinese family, and crosses an ocean and a continent to settle into Brooklyn, New York, in 1947. 

Brooklyn is a mind-boggling swirl of newness — white boxes in the home which keep food cold and wash clothes;  people with blue eyes, ebony skin, freckles, or red hair; bubble gum and roller skates; and the babbling sounds of the English language.  For Shirley, it is also a lonely world full of misunderstandings, miscommunication, teasing, and tears.  Until finally, an unexpected friendship, the very American game of baseball, and the sensational Jackie Robinson, who is also breaking new ground, offer Shirley the bridge she needs to feel at home.

With a chapter for every month in this Year of the Boar, Bette Bao Lord escorts us on an incredibly personal journey based on her own experiences as a newcomer to America.  The private anguish of not belonging is here, as well as the bewildering confusion of a new culture, the humorous discoveries Shirley makes, the deep devotion of her parents, the kindness of her teacher, the warmth and strength that come from acceptance and friendship, all seen through the eyes of a little 8-year-old girl.  Coursing through, in a brilliant streak of hope, are the ’47 Brooklyn Dodgers, going to the World Series against the New York Yankees.

Marc Simont’s illustrations are wonderful, expressive glimpses of the various personalities in Shirley’s world, from the Irish triplets she babysits, to her eccentric piano teacher, Señora Rodriguez; Mrs. Rappaport of the fiery, sticking-up hair, and diminutive Shirley herself.  This makes a fabulous read-aloud for some children as young as 6, and a great, very well-written read for kids at about a 3rd or 4th grade reading level.  Despite the dominance of a young girl protagonist, there is enough of the world of Brooklyn, her schoolmates, and the Brooklyn Dodgers, to interest many boys.  I really like this book!

Here’s the Amazon link: In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson