by Jenny Han
w/ pictures by Julia Kuo
Little, Brown, and Books, 2011.
150 pages, hardcover.
Selected from the Concenter List, borrowed from the Library, and highly anticipated after recently reading Han’s Shug.
The Apple Blossom Festival is coming up, and eight-year-old Clara Lee has been thinking about trying out for Little Miss Apple Pie, but she is afraid of making a speech in front of the whole school. One night she has a really bad dream, but Clara Lee knows her grandfather, a “dream genius,” wouldn’t lie to her when he reassures her that such dreams bring Good Luck. The day proves to be exceedingly Lucky, but will Good Luck stick around long enough to help her win the role of Little Miss Apple Pie? Or will all the unlucky things that begin to happen mean the ruin of everything?
Jenny Han’s Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream is absolutely delightful. It is a sweet little chapter book for the 8-10 crowd with a sassy protagonist who will easily charm any reader. And she’s not all that will charm you.
Clara Lee’s home is multi-generational. Her grandfather lives with her and her father, mother and younger sister. He is the center of Clara Lee whole world. She loves to spend time with him, tells him everything, and hates to disappoint him. He gives her his attention and great advice, and is ever learning new English words from Clara Lee,
“It means really, really, really pretty,” I said.
“How you spell?” Grandpa dropped his weeds and pulled out his notebook and pen.
“Um, G-O-R—“ I hesitated. How did you spell “gorgeous”,” anyway? “J-O-U-S.” (64-5).
The relationship with the grandfather centers the book and is an incredibly lovely argument for the value of having a home with multiple generations.
Clara Lee is a big sister, in Korean culture: the Uhnee (36). As an elder sister, I really appreciated Clara Lee and her younger sister’s antics; the strongly rendered personalities. Theirs is a source of a great deal of comedy in the read. The family you find in Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream is a wonderful relief in children’s fiction. Clara Lee has plenty of the entertaining travails of a 3rd grader without any familial strife more traumatic than a somewhat typical sibling relationship.
Good Luck bolsters Clara Lee’s courage, but the reader comes to realize that in the end it is not Luck that creates the real confidence, but family and friends, and the recognition that Clara Lee herself has the wit (attitude) and capability to pursue her dreams.
Maybe the good and the bad balanced each other out. Maybe there was no such thing as good or bad luck days. Maybe every day had good and bad things, and that was just the way it went. (131)
Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream is certain to be a pleasure for any reader looking for a non-white protagonist, and/or a multi-cultural home. Clara Lee is a second generation Korean American. Korean Americans will likely find familiarity, and those unfamiliar with Korean culture will be enchanted—and informed. Jenny Han has a light and delicate hand in providing insight and perspective without undermining its integrity.
Dionne Gregory was saying how her great-great-great-uncle was one of the founders of this town, and how her family is All-American. American as apple pie.” I sniffled.
“What’s this, American as apple pie?”
“It just means really, really American,” I said.
“So what? So are you, American as apple pie.”
“I don’t think I’m as Amercian as Dionne Gregory,” I said, wiping a tear away.
“Clara-yah, of course you are! You are all-American Korean American”!” Grandpa put his arm around me. “You are both. One hundred percent American, one hundred percent Korean. Doesn’t make you less than anybody else. It makes you more.” (92)
When Clara Lee deliberates the content of her speech, she thinks about the people who populate the small town of Bramley, how they are each special and terribly necessary. The reader will notice, too, how they are not all homogenous, they are distinctly individual, and entertainingly quirky. There can be no doubt that Clara Lee is American-as-Apple-Pie enough to wear the sash and tiara and ride a float in the parade. Whether she is chosen to ride in the parade is of another matter…