Multicultural Chapter Books for Kids: Grace Lin’s Pacy Series
These days when we tell our kids that we are having Dim Sum for breakfast, a great cheer goes out. “Dim Sum, Yum Yum!” is chanted roundly throughout the house. A few years ago, this was not the case. My kids hated Dim Sum but we’d ignore their incessant complaining because my husband and I love it. Though my kids stick to a handful of items — steamed pork buns, rice noodles, shu mai dumplings, and mango jello — they will occasionally try something new. Last week, my middle daughter and I tried an herbal version of chicken feet (fyi, medicinal and tasting of ginseng).
To me Grace Lin is like a trip to the Dim Sum restaurant: full of surprises but reliably delicious. And with her latest of three books now on Pacy Lin, a semi-autobiographical series, even profound at times!
“…I remembered on that first day, I just supposed that he wasn’t a good artist, because he couldn’t speak well. He spoke English so hesitantly, bumbling and stumbling over words, I had thought that was the kind of person he was. And he wasn’t. I realized that was probably how people saw me here because I couldn’t speak Chinese.”
“Good-bye,” I said, and I felt sad. Why had I wasted all those days of class, making myself unhappy, trying to beat Audrey? Instead, I could’ve become friends with Eva, and it would’ve been more fun. Instead of dreading painting class, I could’ve loved it just like Eva did. And maybe Eva and I could’ve become really good friends like me and Melody. But now it was too late. I probably wouldn’t see Eva again.
In Chinese painting, the teacher had said, “you can’t take back anything you do.” I guessed that was true in real life, too. But I wished it wasn’t.”
To say that Grace Lin speaks to the Asian American experience is probably not specific enough and, simultaneously, also much greater than that. As a sensei (sorry, I’m half Japanese and this means the second generation in Japanese), Grace speaks poignantly of the pushes and pulls between her homeland and her “Americanization” conflicts that stem from trying to find the space where she fits in and yet connects with her ethnicity. That her books speak to a Taiwanese-American experience which is as different from a mainland Chinese experience as apples are to oranges yet also convey the conflict of all second generation immigrant children from any continent.
But I especially love Grace Lin’s Pacy chapter book series. The Year of the Dog is where Pacy discovers her career path in writing and illustrating books. The Year of the Rat has Pacy dealing with big changes coping from the loss of her best friend — the only other Asian American girl in her class who moves away to California. In real life, this happens to Grace as well, and this best friend turns out to be her future editor!
With every book she writes, Grace Lin just gets better and better and noted by her recent accolades: Newbery Honor Winner for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and Geisel Winner for Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same! Her easy reader chapter book is especially a stand out to me — try to convey character, setting, and plot with less than 200 very simple words! Grace’s trip to Taiwan yields not just her Newbery Honor winner, but Dumpling Days as well. And dumplings figure into her Geisel winner as well!
Food, friendship and the ties that bind — themes woven into the body of work by Grace Lin. Delicious indeed!
p.s. I also love picture book The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin. A story of community probably based on her experience living in Somerville, Massachusetts which neighbors more famous Cambridge. Growing Chinese vegetables may not look as pretty as the flowers her neighbors grow in their multi-ethnic neighborhood, but everyone appreciates the delicious soup it makes.
p.p.s. My friend and yoga teacher says Grace Lin does school visits her kids’ school in Cambridge and is a lovely person! And a note to self to try to get her to my kids’ school!
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