The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Abigail Halpin

If anyone could see my face now, they’d know that I’m in quite a bit of agony.  After reading this post, my readers will hopefully understand why I have to break my own rule of not revealing titles of books published in 2012 as I think and write about them while serving on the Newbery award selection committee.  Here it goes:

I really like this charming little middle grade book. I appreciate that it tells a contemporary story with an ABC (American Born Chinese) protagonist that has some Chinese cultural things sprinkled through without making the heritage a “problem” in her life or in her relationship with her friends.  I think Andrea Cheng really captures that 10-year-old-book-lover-in-the-process-of-sorting-out-friendship-and-family-relations spirit and she successfully implies many emotions and events without ever becoming overtly preachy or melodramatic.  The cover is lovely.  The trim size is cozy.  The occasional illustrations cannot be more warm or eye-pleasing.  I think it will be loved by many readers and teachers can happily use it with their students.  After all, there is the subtle mean-girl scenario that is handled so well and there is reading and writing realistically reflecting many students’ experiences.

The possibility of its wide classroom applicability is why I feel obligated, as someone who can read Chinese fluently, to list some of the spelling, factual, and pictorial mistakes in the book, so adults who use this book with children can help them correct these in the book.  Here are the ones I spotted, in page order:

On the page of the Pronunciation Guide: the last word “Happiness” is marked with the correct pin yin “Xing fu” but where there should be the Chinese character “xing” 幸,there is the hand written pin yin of “Fu”

On page 43: The Chinese Characters and the English are mismatched:

The Chinese Characters are

Pumpkin –> Black Cat –> Witch

but the English labels read:

Witch –> Pumpkin –> Black Cat

On page 45: When discussing about what the moon is like… Anna says that her mom told her the moon is an old lady… which is definitely news to me.  Traditionally we think of these three characters as long term residents on the moon: The Goddess Chang Eh, the Wood Cutter Wu Gang, and the Jade Rabbit.  Sometimes we also say that there is a magical Toad on the moon.  But, old lady?  Hmm… This could just be the result of different families and the stories they pass down.

On page 76: The text says that the Chinese teacher is teaching words like snow, ice, and cold.  The illustration shows the Chinese characters of Snow, Ice, and Cold correctly — but the English label shows, Snow, Ice, and Wind.

On page 110: (I verified this with the pronunciation guide and also the author’s own text on page 143.)  The text shows, “We sit at the kitchen table and have my favorite bean paste, bao zia, for a snack.”  Chinese eat sweet bao zi (steamed buns) with red bean paste filling as snacks, but I seldom see people eat bean paste directly … and bean paste is called “dou sha,” not “bao zi.”  Here also, zi is mistyped as zia, which is not a sound found in Chinese words.

On page 131: When discussing the Chinese Zodiac animals, the author lists “Dog, cat, cow, horse, rooster, and rat” where anyone familiar with the Chinese zodiac or the Chinese zodiac stories knows that CAT is excluded from the zodiac.  There is no “Year of the Cat!”

On page 136: When making the timeline, Anna puts down her birth year as 1998 and states that it’s the Year of the Dog.  This is erroneous.  1998 is the Year of the Tiger.  Year of the Dog is either 1994 or 2006.

These are all non plot-essential mistakes and it does not take away the integrity of the character development or the flavor of the setting.  However, in this day and age where we are teaching each other and our children to be culturally sensitive and as accurate as we can be, and where Chinese speaking and writing people who can take a quick look and point out mistakes to be corrected before going to print should not be very hard to find, finding these many mistakes in one small, 146-page book simply stuns me.