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Friday, June 15, 2012

The Year of the Book, written by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Abigail Halpin. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $17.99 ages 8 and up

"We go to Mr. Schmitz's room for science. There is a bathtub full of pillows in the back of the room where you can read when you're done with your work, but first we have to gather data. The data is observations about different bird nests that are out on the shelf."

Anna is a girl after my own heart. She loves to read and would often rather be reading than doing anything else. The girls in her class don't matter to her much, although she does have a soft spot for Laura. Laura has, however, disappointed Anna in the past, with her ever-changing loyalties. Anna thinks that working so hard at friendship isn't worth the sorrow, or the time.

She loves being lost in the lives of her beloved characters and has a penchant for reading wondrous books. Now, life seems to be getting in the way, and Anna is forced to make some important discoveries about life as it is lived beyond the four walls of her home.

First, she is slightly embarrassed by her mother's difficulty with the English language and with learning how to drive. Anna must go to Chinese school and she sees no worth in her attendance. Why learn to speak her mother's language when her mother is learning English? Second, she doesn't want anyone to know that her mother cleans apartments. Third, she has been hurt by the girls at school before, and doesn't want it to happen again.

As she goes about life beyond her comfort zone, Anna meets some lovely people - Mr. Shepherd who helps everyone he meets despite the loss of his wife and his confinement to a wheelchair, Camille who is another girl attending Chinese school and who struggles with learning, and Laura who needs a friend to help her deal with the family problems she faces each day.

As Anna becomes involved in life, she retains her love of books; but, she begins to show her feelings for others and to deal with budding friendships that can make a difference in her life, too. Anna is innately shy and becomes stronger with each new discovery she makes about those around her. Life holds its share of worry, but it also offers joy. It is a lesson that Anna learns over the course of our sharing her story.

Her first person narration helps readers make connections with a young girl who has strong adult role models and friends, while learning to trust her own instincts in terms of those who are her own age.
As she applies what she has read to real life we see Anna's growing maturity and admire her courage to reach out and help others.

Great illustrations connect readers to the Chinese culture, to tangrams, wontons and sewing (as in the drawstring bag directions) and to two young friends struggling to find solace together in the real world. 

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