Thursday, March 6, 2008
A Late Chinese New Year
I know I'm a little late at reading these two, but since I've seen so many blogs about The Year of the Rat by Grace Lin, I thought I better get on the bus. I picked it up at my local library over the weekend to preview it for our school library. I won't lie, it took me a while to get into the story, but when I did, I realized how well it's written.
I have yet to read The Year of the Dog, which I know came first so I'm a little out of order, but what else is new, people tell me I'm out of order all the time! Anyway, The Year of the Rat works in so many ways, so I'm looking forward to reading the first book second...huh!?
On one level the book can be used to talk about friendships and how they change and grow. At first the book seemed a bit childish and immature to me, but then I got into the feel that it was from a child's perspective and the language drew me in. I loved how Grace Lin works the relationships in the story between the main character, Grace, and her best friend, Melody. The changes in friendships between Grace and the "cool" girls are portrayed so that the reader ends up cheering for both sides at various times in the book. In the end, when Grace comes to the realization that not only had her old friends changed, but so had she, it's not cheesey, but real and genuine.
On another level the book can be used to talk about family traditions, especially those of Chinese families. Throughout the book Grace Lin breaks in the story to give a memory or story from one of the parents. They deal with growing up, Chinese legends that teach lessons, or Chinese traditions surrounding the New Year, weddings, and other family celebrations. Reading the back flap confirmed my suspicions that a lot of the story, and especially these parts of the story came from the author's childhood. They are all fascinating and so well woven into the plot, but they could almost be pulled out and used separately as a lesson on the Chinese culture.
Finally, it's a book on immigration. When Grace's best friend Melody moves away and another Chinese family moves in. The new boy is made fun of for not fitting in, and Grace deals with her mixed feelings of how to treat him. It's an interesting look at how children of immigrant parents struggle in a dual world.
The Year of the Rat is a warm, well-told story that can be enjoyed by readers from third grade up. It would also make a great read aloud for younger readers.