Friday, September 19, 2014

#Diversiverse Review: Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, The Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions by Lenore Look

It's Christmas vacation and Alvin Ho, 7 year old Chinese American second grader, is back for another adventure and this time he's leaving his home in Concord, MA and traveling half way around the world to visit family in Beijing, China.

For most kids, a trip to China would be an exciting, fun adventure, but most kids aren't Alvin.  For Alvin, it means packing your PDK (Personal Disaster Kit), and climbing into a tin can to fly half way around the world, accompanied by his dad, his mom, older brother Calvin, younger sister Anibelly and baby sister Claire, and oh, yes, all his allergies.  You see, Alvin is allergic to all kinds of scary things, and on a trip to a foreign country, he will be able to add all kinds if fears like flying, heights, and elevators to his repertoire of allergies.

Once in China, Alvin does manage to visit the Great Wall, lose his father's passport (NOT something you want to have happen in China), go through the Forbidden Palace and, my personal favorite, end up in a Chinese hospital.

But anyone familiar with Alvin's previous adventures in fear will remember he is allergic to girls (#1: Alvin Ho is Allergic to Girls School and Other Scary Things), so when his cousin Katie shows him the Christmas tree she decorated with angels bearing the wishes of girls living in an orphanage, Alvin thinks it is a swell idea until the angel he picks says Friend on it.  How do you give a friend?  And to a girl, no less?  It is a conundrum, but Alvin works out with some surprising results.

Although Alvin's obsessive nature sometimes got on my nerves, I think the real benefit of the Alvin Ho books is that they address the many fears that kids often have, and may even provide a kind of relief for the reader when they realize they are not alone.

I also laughed my way though most of Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, The Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions, partly because so much of what happens is so spot on (right down to Calvin's I Climbed the Great Wall t-shirt, the same t-shirt my Kiddo came home wearing from her first trip to China).

I've always like Lenore Look's books because he manages to get so much information into the story that you don't even realize you just learned something new about China and Chinese culture.  For example, I didn't know that Chinese buildings don't have a 4th, 14th and 24th floor because 4 is an unlucky number in China and they don't have a 13th floor because that is an unlucky number in Western countries.  And I didn't know that the purpose of acupuncture is to more your stuck Chi (Qi) or energy to help you feel better.  These are just part of Alvin's story and are worked into it so seamlessly.

I chose Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, The Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions for my first book in the A More Diverse Universe Reading Challenge because so often children's books written by people of color are overlooked and there are so many more that there used to be and so many are wonderful.

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