Just in time for the Chinese New Year, critically acclaimed author and illustrator Grace Lin brings us a heartwarming story of what it means to be Chinese and American in her new book, Year of the Dog. In this autobiographical novel, Lin gives young readers a glimpse of a year in her own young life in 1982: of finding friends, dealing with racism, learning her true talents and understanding her heritage.
Raised in upstate New York, Lin and her family were among very few Asian Americans in their small town. As a result, she had a hard time learning to appreciate her cultural traditions. "While we were growing up, there were very few books about Asian Americans," Lin says from her home near Boston. "We had a book about five Chinese brothers and then Riki Tiki Tavi, but that was about it."
Having little reference to Asian heritage in her school life affected Lin in many ways. "Most of the time, I ignored the fact that racism existed and I spent much of my time trying to forget that I was Asian," the author says. "When someone would point it out to me, it was like a slap in the face." She recalls such a time in the book, when she was excited to try out for the part of Dorothy in her school's production of The Wizard of Oz. Just before the audition, one of her girlfriends told her, "You can't be Dorothy. Dorothy's not Chinese." "Suddenly the world went silent," Lin writes, "Like a melting icicle, my dream of being Dorothy fell and shattered on the ground."
In keeping with Chinese tradition, Lin's fictionalized portrait of her experiences begins not on January 1, but with the first day of the Chinese New Year, in this case, the Year of the Dog. "You know how they say a dog is a man's best friend? Well, in the Year of the Dog, you find your best friends," Lin writes "Since dogs are also honest and sincere, it's [also] a good year to find yourself."
Lin's character manages to accomplish both goals. First, she meets her best friend, known in the book as Melody, the only other Asian-American girl in her class. Melody teaches the author that it's okay to be a little different from everyone else—and that it can even be fun. In real life, that same best friend, Alvina Ling, later went on to edit children's books, and in a wonderful turn of events, eventually became Lin's editor for this book.
Also during the Year of the Dog, Lin finds her true calling: to write and illustrate books. With the end of the year drawing near—and much self-pressure to find her path in life—Lin enters a school-sponsored writing and illustrating contest, and wins."I was crazy about books and I used to make books for every project we had to do in school," Lin recalls. "It was the first time I realized that you could actually do this as a job." Later, Lin took her love for books to the Rhode Island School of Design, where she studied children's book illustration and ultimately found an editor who prompted her to write stories about her drawings. "From then, I started writing like crazy to make up stories to go with my drawings." Soon after, her first book, The Ugly Vegetables, was born.
To date, Lin has written seven books, illustrated 10 others and has seven yet in the works—most of which are inspired by her Chinese-American heritage. Now that there are many more Asian-themed books on the market, several of which have been written or illustrated by Lin herself, the author hopes that other children won't have to face the issues she did. "With the Asian books, I'm inspired to study and learn more about my cultural traditions," says Lin, "and, hopefully, put the kinds of books out there that I would have wanted to read as a child."
Sharing Asian traditions is only a portion of Lin's incredible work. She is also dedicated to a project called "Robert's Snow," a fundraising program that began after her husband Robert was diagnosed with bone cancer. Lin asked 200 other children's book illustrators to create original art on wooden snowflake shapes, which were then auctioned off. The results were overwhelming—they raised more than $100,000—with all of the proceeds going to cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
The original snowflakes were so popular that Lin had the artwork published in a book called Robert's Snowflakes, the proceeds of which have also gone to the Institute. This year, the amazing and tireless author has again convinced more book illustrators to contribute to the cause. The Robert's Snow 2005 snowflakes can be viewed at www.robertssnow.com, and with any luck, this new Year of the Dog (2006) will be just as lucky as the author's first.
Heidi Henneman writes from New York City. Copyright 2006 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2006 Fall
For Taiwanese-American Pacy, sorting out her ethnic identity is important, and she wonders what she should be when she grows up. Writing and illustrating a book for a national contest makes her think that perhaps she can become an author of a "real Chinese person book." Lin offers both authentic Taiwanese-American and universal childhood experiences, told from a genuine child perspective. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2006 #2
Pacy spends the Year of the Dog on a journey of self-discovery. Although sorting out her ethnic identity is important (she is Taiwanese-American in a largely non-Asian community), Pacy has another pressing question to answer: what should she be when she grows up? She likes coloring eggs for her new baby cousin Albert's Red Egg party -- maybe she will become a Red Egg colorer. Or how about a scientist (she and her best friend Melody get quite excited about their project for the science fair) or an actress (Pacy plays a munchkin in her school production of The Wizard of Oz)? Writing and illustrating her own book for a national contest makes her think that perhaps she can become an author of a "real Chinese person book." With a light touch, Lin offers both authentic Taiwanese-American and universal childhood experiences, told from a genuine child perspective. The story, interwoven with several family anecdotes, is entertaining and often illuminating. Appealing, childlike decorative line drawings add a delightful flavor to a gentle tale full of humor. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2005 December #2
Being Taiwanese-American is confusing, and being the only Asian kid in your elementary school--except for your older sister--is not always comfortable. Pacy has high hopes for the Year of the Dog, which, she learns, is a year for finding friends and finding yourself. The friend comes first: a new girl, Melody, whose family is also Taiwanese-American. Over the course of the year, Pacy eats at Melody's house, where the food is familiar but also very different, celebrates her cousin's Red Egg day, writes a story for a national contest, visits Chinatown in New York City and wins a prize. Not only does she feel rich, she knows what she wants to do with her life. The Year of the Dog turns out exactly as advertised. Elementary school readers will enjoy the familiar details of school life and the less familiar but deliciously described Chinese holiday meals. Interspersed with the happenings of daily life are her mother's stories of Pacy's grandparents' lives and her own struggles as a new immigrant. Occasional black-and-white drawings by the author enliven the text. This comfortable first-person story will be a treat for Asian-American girls looking to see themselves in their reading, but also for any reader who enjoys stories of friendship and family life. (Fiction. 8-12) Copyright Kirkus 2005 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2006 January #1
Lin, best known for her picture books, here offers up a charming first novel, an autobiographical tale of an Asian-American girl's sweet and funny insights on family, identity and friendship. When her family celebrates Chinese New Year, ringing in the Year of the Dog, Pacy (Grace is her American name) wonders what the coming months will bring. Her relatives explain that the Year of the Dog is traditionally the year when people "find themselves," discovering their values and what they want to do with their lives. With big expectations and lots of questions, the narrator moves through the next 12 months trying to figure out what makes her unique and how she fits in with her family, friends and classmates. Pacy experiences some good luck along the way, too, winning a contest that will inspire her career (Lin's fans will recognize the prize submission, The Ugly Vegetables , as her debut children's book). Lin creates an endearing protagonist, realistically dealing with universal emotions and situations. The well-structured story, divided into 29 brief chapters, introduces traditional customs (e.g., Hong Bao are special red envelopes with money in them, given as New Year's presents), culture and cuisine, and includes several apropos "flashback" anecdotes, mainly from Pacy's mother. The book's inviting design suggests a journal, and features childlike spot illustrations and a typeface with a hand-lettered quality. Girls everywhere, but especially those in the Asian-American community, will find much to embrace here. Ages 8-12. (Feb.)[Page 62]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Gr 3-5 -A lighthearted coming-of-age novel with a cultural twist. Readers follow Grace, an American girl of Taiwanese heritage, through the course of one year-The Year of the Dog-as she struggles to integrate her two cultures. Throughout the story, her parents share their own experiences that parallel events in her life. These stories serve a dual purpose; they draw attention to Grace's cultural background and allow her to make informed decisions. She and her two sisters are the only Taiwanese-American children at school until Melody arrives. The girls become friends and their common backgrounds illuminate further differences between the American and Taiwanese cultures. At the end of the year, the protagonist has grown substantially. Small, captioned, childlike black-and-white drawings are dotted throughout. This is an enjoyable chapter book with easily identifiable characters.-Diane Eddington, Los Angeles Public Library[Page 196]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.