fiction favorites…Ruby Lu, Brave and True

Ruby Lu, Brave and True, by Lenore Look, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf

Tiger was Ruby’s best friend.  He lived two blocks away, but it felt like he lived next door.  He was faster than e-mail.  “Don’t break the speed limit!” his mother always called after him.  He was also fast at making friends.  With just the right smile, he was always saying hi and having a chat.  Ruby didn’t make friends so quickly.  She liked her old friends best.
“You never know when a new friend might become another best friend,” Tiger told Ruby.  “Just smile and look them smack in the eye.”
But the very best thing about living on 20th Avenue South was Oscar.  Oscar was Ruby’s baby brother.  When he was brand-new, he felt as solid as wrapped tuna from the Pike Place Market and smelled like fresh-baked daan taht.  He was more beautiful than Ruby had imagined.  She had waited a very long time for him.  And when he came home from the hospital, she had nearly forgotten that she had wished for a puppy.

Ruby Lu is a spunky, eight-year-old, Asian-American girl whose manifold thoughts sometimes outdistance her common sense, but who definitely means well.  

This first book (there are 3 now) introduces us to her family, her neighborhood, her mixed-culture life, and her honest, loving, slightly-awkward, self.  Ruby Lu’s cultural heritage and American life mix thoroughly in the swirl of her Seattle neighborhood, where she mostly loves to perform magic tricks in backyard shows and boast about her baby brother to her best friend, Emma — big sister to another baby, and owner of a real, live dog!

Life gets a bit more stressful when Ruby hears that her cousin, Flying Duck, is emigrating to Seattle from China, and that she, Ruby, needs to pick up some more Chinese language skills before she comes.  Plus share her room with her upon arrival.  This all puts Ruby Lu into a bit of a tizzy, but it ends much more happily than she ever imagined.

This chapter book, for readers just launching into longer reads, has some great elements.  Ruby is a happy child, for one.  She has a happy, stable home.  The trials of her life involve shyness, neighborhood rivalries, feelings of inadequacy over her ability to learn Chinese — that are, in my opinion, decent 8-year-old problems.  Her parents and grandparents love her, and — what is this?! — she adores her baby brother!  I am always very happy to find an older sibling who is not annoyed with a new baby.  Most of the children of my acquaintance are ecstatic over new babies, and I find it wearisome to have a formulaic sibling-rivalry storyline in so many books.  The cultural elements introduced are fascinating for those of us outside of this culture, and welcome for those looking for a non-White main character in early chapter books.  The writing is fluid, interesting, and full of forward motion.

That said, I’ll warn you that there’s a very quirky chapter in which Ruby Lu drives the car — yes, for real — from her house to her school, with her baby brother in his car seat.  By her self.  Early one morning.  With nary a problem.  And doesn’t get in a whole lot of trouble for it.  It’s quite startling, since the book is otherwise realistic; not fanciful.  For most children, this will probably just be another fictional, story-time adventure; I’m guessing it’s us adults who are more prone to gulp a bit and think, “What in the world?!”  But — just so you know.  In case you have car kleptos in

your household.  It’s an aberration in an otherwise Ramona Quimby-style book, and it doesn’t bother me enough to not recommend it for your voracious readers, through about age 9.

Handy little glossary and pronunciation guide for Chinese terms, clever movie-flip-book sequence on the page corners, loose, black-ink illustrations, and a nice, approachable-size type, plus two sequels with good reviews for those who love Ruby, are all more reasons to check it out for yourself.  (The new cover is awful; get an old copy!)

Here’s the Amazon link:Ruby Lu, Brave and True