Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews
The Year of the Fortune Cookie
Illustrator: Patrice Barton
For ages 7 to 9
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015 ISBN: 978-0544455924
Anna Wang cannot imagine what it would be like not to have her little sister, Kaylee, in her life, and yet it was not that long ago that Kaylee came to join their family. Over a year ago Anna’s mother and father went to Beijing in China and adopted Kaylee. Back in February Mrs. Sylvester and his husband came over to Anna’s house to talk to Anna’s parents about what it was like to adopt a Chinese baby. Now, in September, the Sylvesters have finally been approved by the Chinese government, and in December they will be going to Beijing to pick up their new baby.
The Sylvesters would like Anna and her mother to go with them, but Mrs. Wang cannot take time off from work for two weeks, and so it is decided that Anna will go with the Sylvesters on her own. The prospect of going on such a journey really excites Anna. Maybe she could even visit the orphanage where Kaylee lived for a while.
In the months leading up to the grand adventure Anna works on a new unit in school called “Who am I?” There are many parts to the unit that interconnect, and Anna starts thinking about who she is on many different levers. What makes her the person she is today? Certainly her Chinese origins are a big part of who she is, but then there is the American part of her as well. Is one part bigger than the other? Does it even matter?
Anna joins a club at school called CAT (Committee Action Team) and soon she is helping out with community projects. When she tells her new friends about her upcoming trip, and that she is hoping to visit the orphanage where Kaylee lived, they decide to raise some money for the orphanage. By making and selling fortune cookies they make over two hundred dollars that Anna will take to China with her when she visits. Later Anna decides that it would be nice to take gifts to the babies at the orphanage too, and soon she and her friends, and some adults as well, are knitting little hats for all the babies.
Not surprisingly, when it is time to leave for China Anna starts to get anxious. She has never been away from her family, let alone for two whole weeks. If she gets homesick she won’t be able to come home. At the same time, Anna really wants to find out what China is like, to learn something about the birthplace of her mother and her little sister. Maybe going to China will help her better understand who she is.
It turns out that China is full of surprises for a ten-year-old who has never been on a long overseas trip before. Beijing is an incredibly noisy, busy place, and Anna’s Chinese is not good enough to carry on a conversation with the people she meets. Anna, the Sylvesters and the other couples who are in Beijing to adopt babies are taken to see the sights including the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City. Anna also makes friends with Fan, a teenager who works in the hotel restaurant. Thanks to Fan, Anna starts to see what it would like to live in Beijing.
In this third book about Anna Wang, the girl who not long ago did not really want to go to her Chinese language lessons, begins to connect with her Chinese heritage in a very special way. Readers will get caught up in her story and will want to know what it is like for a girl born and raised in America to go to China. The story brings up interesting questions about self, identity, community and family, and it invites readers to think about who they are.