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Book Review: In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson

January 22, 2017

Jacket image, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao LordIn the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson
Bette Bao Lord
Scholastic
(book from personal collection)

When I saw this on the shelf, I scooped it up and hugged it, grinning with happy memories. I remember that I must have been in 3rd grade when I found this in the elementary school library, and loved it so much that I am pretty sure I kept it for months to reread (Sorry, Mrs. Grogan!). Finding a copy of my own, especially on a weekend when I needed a sweet, comfort reread, delights me.

I curled up with it last night and read it cover to cover in a matter of a couple of hours. Memories came back as I read: A young girl named Bandit, leaves her extended family in China, to come to Brooklyn with her mother, where her father is waiting for them. To be more American, she takes a new name: Shirley Temple Wong. A new language, a new school– it’s all overwhelming and kind of scary. Until she starts to make friends with classmates who teach her about baseball, stickball, candy… and gets to know her neighbors who are, like her, immigrants from places far away.

Yes, this is sweet and joyful and comforting to reread because it’s about kids being kids: baseball-obsessed, scared of spiders, calling each other names, but settling down at their desks for a charismatic fifth-grade teacher…and it’s about a close-knit family, and the warmth of neighbors helping take care of each other, exchanging the traditions of their different countries. And yes, part of why I love it is remembering the experience of reading it for the first time, when the memory of coming all the way from San Francisco to the new strangeness of New York was still fresh.

But, even more, this is a case of the perfect timing. Reading about an immigrant family coming to New York, and finding acceptance and opportunity as well as adventure…that’s a good, grounding reminder. Shirley Wong’s teacher, Ms. Rappaport, gives her class a lesson on civics that made me want to jump out of bed and cheer:

Suddenly Shirley understood why her father had brought her 10,000 miles to live among strangers. Here, she did not have to wait for gray hairs to be considered wise. Here, she could speak up, question even the conduct of the President. Here, Shirley Temple Wong was somebody. She felt as if she had the power of ten tigers, as if she had grown as tall as the Statue of Liberty.

I read this, and I want to help make it true, however I can. To have there be more hope, more possibility and above all, more welcome and acceptance. For as many people as possible, in New York and beyond.

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