Tuesday, June 24, 2014
The Year of the Fortune Cookie by Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Patrice Barton
In The Year of the Baby, Anna's parents have adopted a new baby sister from China, but Kaylee, an otherwise happy baby, isn't eating. So 5th grade friends Anna, Camille and Laura develop a science project that they hope will entice baby Kaylee to eat more.
Now, in The Year of the Fortune Cookie, Anna has moved on to 6th grade and middle school. It looks like Anna and Camille are the only Chinese students there, until Anna meets Andee when she signs up for an after school club.
In English, the teacher Mrs. Smith is teaching the kids how to write a proper paragraph and coordinates her lesson with the social studies topic of Who Am I? This gets Anna to thinking a lot about who she is and about who baby sister Kaylee is.
Anna and her mother are invited by her 5th grade teacher Ms. Sylvester to accompany her and her husband to Beijing, China as they adopt they own baby girl. When it turns out that Mrs. Wang isn't able to make the trip, it's decided that Anna would go with the Sylvesters anyway. In order to miss two weeks of school in December, however, Anna needs the signature of all her teachers.
Her English teacher is reluctant to sign and instead hands her back a paper Anna had written about what makes her who she is with suggestions for a rewrite. Eventually Anna hands in a satisfactory paper and gets permission to go to China. It is Anna's hope that going there will give her a better understanding of who she is.
At the same time, the students in Anna's after school group decide to bake and sell fortune cookies to raise money to give to the Lucky Family Orphanage that Kaylee and the Sylvester's new baby were adopted from. They also knit hats for the babies still there. It's Anna wish to talk to the women who cared for her sister, but the prospects of that don't look very good. Then, just when Anna thinks she will never to see the orphanage, she is pleasantly surprised.
This is a gentle story with lots happening, but with none of the dramatics usually associated with middle school novels. The action may happen in middle school, but this is a better book for kids who are not there quite yet, making it a nice introduction to this time for readers. Anna frets about all the usual things that going to a new school brings up - friends, work, being different, being accepted, but the main theme of identity and what makes us who we are is really the stuff of this book and of middle school.
Adult readers may wonder why the Sylvesters take Anna with them to Beijing, but younger readers won't be bothered by it. I didn't dwell on the time Anna spent in Beijing, even though it takes up a fair amount of space, mainly because there is so much to it. I admired Anna tenacity there when it looks like the woman from the orphanage is trying to get out of taking her to visit, but Anna was determined to do this for her sister.
The whimsical black and white illustrations by Patrice Barton add much to this heartwarming story and will provide continuity to readers who will recognize them from The Year of the Baby, which Barton also did.
The character of Anna grows a lot in this book and I wonder if Cheng is going to bring her from chapter book to middle grade novel for her fans who are growing up as well. I think it is a nice book for kids around 9 or 10 who are soon facing middle school.
Anna is still learning Chinese and there is a pronunciation guide and character list at the beginning of the book of all the words and phrases used in The Year of the Fortune Cookie. And even though we learn that fortune cookies don't exist in China, there is a recipe at the back of the book for making them.
This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from a friend