The Year of the Dog, by Grace Lin

The Year of the Dog

Rating: 4/5

In this memoir/fiction for ages 9-12 we meet a little girl named Grace who is Taiwanese-American. We read about her struggles to find herself in the year of the dog, which is supposed to be a very lucky year, so she’ll probably get rich-so she hopes!

She and her sister are the only Taiwanese-American girls in the entire school until a new girl comes along and becomes Grace’s friend. Though Melody is also Taiwanese-American, Grace encounters many similarities and differences between their families, and together they experience a year that is made richer by their dual culture.

The story is lighthearted and provides an insight into a very complex issue of what it means to be bi-cultural in the U.S. Though Grace is very well-adjusted, she feels invisible. None of the books she reads in school ever have Taiwanese or Chinese characters in them; at least, none that she could relate to.

Despite this, she remains enthusiastic about school. When the time for the school play comes along she practices very hard before trying out for the lead role. On the day of the tryouts she is told something that had never crossed her mind:

“‘Dorothy’s not Chinese.”
Suddenly, the world went silent. Like a melting icicle, my dream of being Dorothy fell and shattered on the ground. I felt like a dirty puddle after the rain. All the girls continued singing, but I didn’t hear them. Becky was right. Dorothy wasn’t Chinese. I was SO dumb. How could I have even thought about being Dorothy? I’d never get chosen. It was stupid to even try.”

Though Grace is comforted by the stories her mother tells her, it is not until the audience claps when she, as a munchkin, gives Dorothy a present that she feels it’s ok to be Chinese/Taiwanese and act in a play.

How many of our multicultural students feel this way? It is very important to find books like these that help all kids see themselves and others like them, not in a stereotypical way, but in many different ways; as different as Grace and Melody’s families.

Overall, this book is very good and apt for its target audience. I hope that more books like these continue to be written and appear in all school libraries.

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