Sunday, June 20, 2010

Only One Year by Andrea Cheng, illustrations by Nicole Wong

Sharon is surprised when her mother tells her and her sister, Mary, that they will be sending their baby brother, Di Di, to China to live with his grandparents and extended family for one year.

"China is better for little children," she explains. "In China Di Di will have Nai Nai and Auntie Jing and Uncle Tao and so many cousins to watch him." (5-6)

The book then chronicles the year Di Di is gone and the first few months of his return to the United States. At first, Sharon and Mary miss him terribly, but slowly they return to their regular activities, like playing school and building a dollhouse. Cheng doesn't tell us this. Rather, in lovely and sparse prose, she shows us. Sharon's friend Isabella doesn't understand the family's choice, especially when she learns her own mother is expecting a baby:

"Our baby is going to stay home with my mom and dad and me."

Cheng knows there is no reason to tell us how these words would make Sharon feel. They words hang in the air with heavy importance, like the swing Isabella has hopped off of.

Only One Year is an important contribution to children's literature, as it is about a topic that I haven't seen explored much, if at all. But it is also one of the most tightly written novels for young readers I've read in a long time, and could be a Newbery contender. The wonderful illustrations are placed at just the right moments, like when the family is hand-crafting Di Di's bed right before his return.

So much happens in this little and memorable book. I'm glad CH told me to read it!


Patti said...

I have to say, my interest is piqued. I can't imagine sending away my child for a year. Although, I can imagine the lazing around and no no, i couldn't do it even for that.

alison said...

Oh, you must read it! It is such a gentle, well-rounded exploration of the issue. I have this feeling now that every family should just do what's right for them (and also that maybe you need a vacation day to sleep in!)

Camille said...

This was a topic that I had no inkling about. Although the sisters' acceptance of this tradition seemed odd to my Western point of view, I thought the positive way the girls dealt with their little brother's absence was very upbeat. Lee & Low books are always so enlightening about other cultures.