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As simple as the language needs to be for a child to easily connect with the narrative, this story is dynamic in its attention to a child facing major changes in her home life when her grandfather arrives from China. Not only does Helen, our protagonist, have to give her up her bedroom and her view of the cargo train that runs outside of her room but, her mother becomes a perfectionist, and her grandfather’s is nearly mute in the household because he doesn’t speak English. But Helen, a little lost in her relationship with her grandfather, is persistent in observing him and trying to connect with him. Ultimately, she makes the connection by mistake in a sentimental manner that I felt was “sweet”. Like her, her grandfather likes watching the trains; together they count the cars and teach each other English and Chinese. Towards the end of the story, the family commits to privately learning Chinese through a computer program her Euro-American father has purchased; one gets the feeling that Helen and her grandfather are going to feel “at home” again. I was gratified to see this book give attention to the American Chinese children who don’t know Chinese and didn’t “fit in” at Chinese language school because the dominant narrative of Asian life still seems to be the immigrant story and first generation story of children who are fluent in the Chinese language. Helen and her siblings are first generation American children of mixed Euro and Chinese heritage who, despite her parents attempts to integrate Chinese culture into their lives, are not immersed in Chinese culture. Any child of immigrant parents whose lives make them consider themselves American descendents of their parents’ culture instead of members of the non-United States culture, will identify with Helen and see something of themselves in Helen’s story. All others will enjoy observing Helen’s lived identity and the multigenerational bonding experience in this simply told, complex story.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended; ages 4-8
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda