"review" · chapter/series · Children's · concenter · fiction · recommend

{book} ruby’s magic madness

ruby lu brave and true coverRuby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look

illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004.

Hardcover, 105 pages incl. “Ruby’s Fantastic Glossary and Pronunciation Guide”

Library borrow. Ages 6-10.

Most days the best thing about being Ruby is everything. Like when she’s the star of her own backyard magic show [“Ruby’s Magic Madness”]. Or when she gives a talk at the school safety assembly on the benefits of reflective tape. Or when she rides the No. 3 bus all the way to Chinatown to visit GungGung and PohPoh.
And then there are the days when it’s very hard to be Ruby. Like when her mom suggests Chinese school on Saturdays. Or when her little brother, Oscar, spills all of Ruby’s best magician secrets. Or when her parents don’t think she’s old enough to drive!
Come along with Ruby Lu in her chapter-book debut — which even includes a flip book of a magic trick — and share the good and the not-so-good days with an (almost) eight-year-old Asian-American kid.—Publisher’s Comments

When Natalya was in grade-school, the most popular chapter book choices for reading aloud to each other were those with a high whimsy, strangeness, or humor factor. Had I known Lenore Look existed then, her books would have been bought and shelved next to Junie B. and Dragon Slayer Academy. The Alvin Ho books (my first intro to Look) are awesomely funny, but Ruby Lu, she has an absolute charm all her own.

Anne Wilsdorf illustrative contribution reflects the spunky, live-wire world of Ruby Lu. They have a comic-realist balancing act that fits the character and her stories. They provide visual breaks in the text and clarify the events/antics of the story in a pleasing way. Wilsdorf and Look entertain.

There is a straightforward style in the telling of the story that suits Ruby Lu very well. There are little neighborhood stories that characterize and are characterized by Ruby Lu. Certain interests and attributes thread the small chapter book together. Look begins with the things Ruby likes and then dislikes and as the story progresses Ruby’s relationships with many of these things vacillate based on circumstance. Her baby brother is a great example of this…so is Chinese school. Her “likes” rely on what suits her, and when—sound familiar?

But Ruby is true, true to self and whilst learning is undeniably Ruby Lu—actually, I wonder now if most of the learning is on the part of the reader. Ruby’s bravery is a bit foolhardy at times—there is a marvelous mouth-covering sequence suspending the reader between horror and humor. But her bravery allows her to endure the uncertainty of whether she can learn what she needs at school, whether the bully can be revisited, or whether her emigrating cousin Flying Duck will an embarrassment or a familiar.


Ruby Lu has her charming little quirks that celebrate individuality and, well, childhood; and she isn’t the only one. Ruby’s family is sweet, very present and parental—including the grand-parental. I adore her family and her little Seattle neighborhood.

With concerns over her Asian-cultural education and Ruby’s concerns of integrating her emigrating relative, Ruby Lu has the double-pleasure of telling a story specific to the Asian-American protagonist and providing a glimpse for those with different childhood experiences. Look thoughtfully includes a “Glossary and Pronunciation Guide,” but if there are any worries that Look’s chapter book reads “educational,” relax. Learning about Ruby Lu and life on 20th Avenue South is as effortless as Look makes her storytelling ability appear—which is incredibly fluid and compelling. Look draws such a delightfully funny and fierce heroine, you are guaranteed to enjoy having this one read-aloud to you.


{image belongs to Anne Wilsdorf}

other books in the Ruby Lu series: Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything (2006) and Ruby Lu, Star of the Show (2011).


lenore lookLenore Look is the award-winning author of numerous children’s books including the popular Alvin Ho series. other books: Love as Strong as Ginger (1999); Henry’s First Moon Birthday (2001); Uncle Peter’s Amazing Chinese Wedding (2006); Polka Dot Penguin Pottery (2011); Brush of the Gods (2013)

Learn more about Lenore Look on her site; there is a nifty “q&a” page open for questions wherein I learned much, but here is a few things: She started writing when she was 6 and published her first book 31 years later (‘kento’) ; Look is “from Seattle, WA. [Her] parents, grandparents and great-grandparents all emigrated to the U.S. from China’s Guangdong province. [… ] My parents speak only Chinese to one another and to their children, so Toisanese, which is the country-cousin version of Cantonese, was my first language. I also understand Cantonese, which is more widely used, so I use it in my books (‘tanja’); & in answer to ‘aiden’: “I have two favorite books that I love equally and re-read nearly every year. CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White, and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee.”

"review" · chapter/series · Children's · juvenile lit · recommend · series · Tales

{book} taking the case

Ivy_and_Bean_Take_the_Case_FC_HiResIvy + Bean: Take the Case (Book 10)

by Annie Barrows + Sophie Blackall (illus)

Chronicle Books, 2013. Hardcover, 126 pages.

Modeling herself after a classic film noir detective from her mother’s favorite film, Private Investigator Bean “laughs at danger! […] And she and her assistant, Ivy, are ready, willing, and able to solve any mystery you can throw at them.” If there were any mysteries deemed mysterious enough in Pancake Court, that is…

Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall deliver yet another delightfully creative and intelligent Ivy + Bean adventure. I was surprised to find, however, that plenty of the usual fans on goodreads did not care for this 10th installment. Most of the explanations focused on their “boredom during the first portion of the book” and its “untidy ending.” And I can see that, especially if one misses what is going on in the story.

A mystery was a question you couldn’t find the answer to. In Al Seven’s world, the mysteries were things like Who took Hester’s jewels? or Where was Sammy La Barba on the night of May twelfth? Bean didn’t have any jewels and she sure as heck didn’t know anyone named Sammy La Barba, but there were plenty of questions that she didn’t have answers to. […] What’s inside the cement thing in the front yard? What’s behind the Tengs’ fence and why do they lock it up? and What’s the matter with the mailman? when she asked these questions, her parents usually said something like It’s none of your business. That meant that there was an answer, but they didn’t want her to know it. (13-4)

Investigator Bean and her assistant Ivy are having problems solving mysteries that are impressive enough to satisfy the crowd (e.g. the other kids of Pancake Court), and apparently the reader (e.g. goodreads reviews). Or, rather, it is the answers that their investigations reveal that lack audience interest, because Ivy and Bean are not the only one’s who’ve always wondered about the cement thing, Teng’s backyard or the mailman. When they solve the mystery, the answer turns out to be a lackluster one. The girls are increasingly mocked and the pressure intensifies to find a mystery “strange” enough to satisfy their difficult crowd (which, granted, includes themselves).

Suddenly a rope appears and know one knows who hung it from Dino’s chimney. Every night knots add length as it begins to wind about Pancake Court. This is where the “big mystery” kicks in–but obviously not the story. In Film Noir, this is where the story would start, too. But this is Pancake Court and Bean is not a hardened, tormented detective. And this is Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall breaking from the formulaic. In many ways, their willingness to dare something unexpected and different reclaims the word and idea of mystery; and in doing so, they do what they do exceptionally well: argue on the side of creativity and its prerequisite imagination and different points-of-view.

ivy and bean $(KGrHqNHJF!FFwcJd6+(BRkZVQp7cg~~60_57

Some mysteries are going to remain mysteries, like the one presented in the first chapter: Why would a mother who restricts Bean’s screen-watching-time to ten movies with a strict personal-parental rating allow her daughter to watch a film that breaks all but one of those rules? Barrows could have launched Bean’s new obsession from another source (as many other picture and early chapter books have done).

Clues to who-dunnit appear throughout the early mysteries before we’ve arrived to the Big Case. There is a lot to suggest the who and why by the time the crowd is threatening a revolt. Did the investigative reader consider all the angles? In Mysteries, does the reader really leave it up to the Investigator to do all the work?

<<spoilers alert!!! spoilers!!!!>>

Noting his presence/timing in text/illustration: Jake the Teenager. Why? to help a nutty neighbor out, or to amuse himself, or both? But why leave “The Mystery of the Yellow Rope” unsolved? because the magic of having a mystery is really what Ivy and Bean have discovered to be the most enticing part of a mystery. Think about how quickly the attitude shifted when questions were answered. Boring ol’Pancake Court became even more so.

“Al Seven is always wanting to solve mysteries,” Bean said. “That’s what I don’t get about him,” said Ivy. “Why does he always want to solve them? You solve problems, but a mystery isn’t a problem, so why does it have to be solved?” “Sometimes it’s a problem,” said Bean. “This one isn’t. Nobody’s getting hurt or anything. It’s a nice mystery.” [Ivy said.] (105-6)

Yet again they “solve” the mystery and it isn’t satisfying; the answer’s lack of logic doesn’t help. I am fascinated by the inclusion of the children’s impulse to inform their parents of the rope and inquire of the answer of them. It couples well with this (oft frustrated) need for immediacy and for any work they put in to be rewarded in a way that feels rewarding. The neighborhood kids aren’t getting the “niceness” of the Yellow Rope Mystery, nor are some of its readers, apparently; which is okay. I just find it a smart, creative shift of perspective.

<<spoilers!!!! over……>>

ivy and bean illu-IB_WalkAwayNot all mysteries can be solved, some you do not want to solve, and many have really lackluster answers. That the audience longs for creativity, not only in the mystery but its answers is a central conflict that Take the Case handles beautifully, because it remains a mystery as to why the demand for creativity often ends up in a loathing of the creative revelation or response; or is it? Is this all too much for a grade school chapter book? Hardly…which is why I really love knowing Ivy+Bean exists. In Literature, we expect the form to contribute to the coherence of the work. You needn’t a degree to discover it; if it does, I suppose it fails. I do not believe Take the Case fails. I am continually impressed with how thoughtful the crafting of this series has proven itself to be while yet possessing utter charm and entertainment.

For all the talk of mysteries, Barrows/Blackall keep the friendship center stage as the two explore a childhood and all its strange mysteries together. Like the mutually supportive fictional duo, Blackall’s illustrations are without fail a flawless partner in the rendering of personality the text would infuse into the characters and story. There is no second-guessing or mystery as to whether these to two will stick together come what may.

recommendations…girl or boy, gradeschool, who like humor, contemporary fiction, and friendship stories. A series for those who desire to nurture their young (or to-be) creative writer and reader of Literature. Not for readers who expect (and desire) a transparent tale and its simplistic ribbon-tied ending for their young reader.

{images belong to Sophie Blackall}

"review" · chapter/series · Children's · fiction · Picture book · recommend

{book} bff

b 15799182Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever

by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee

Illust. by Tony Fucile

Candlewick Press, 2013.

I wrote this about the first book Bink & Gollie on Goodreads in 2010: “great words, fantastic illustrations, and a sweet friendship. and the daughter absolutely loved it (even at age 10).” The series is proving consistent, though I haven’t asked N what she’s thought of them of late. Best Friends Forever is the third collection of stories.

In “Empire of Enchantment,” the prospect of being royal goes to Gollie’s head and threatens the sort of give & take she and Bink have established. Gollie also finds being royal pretty lonely. The reader gets to see her also looking a bit ridiculous. Gollie is best when she is just being an ordinary extraordinary Gollie.

0763634972.int.1A spunky Bink struggles with who she is in “Why Should You Be Shorter Than Your Friends?” She has come to rely on Gollie being able to reach things, but it is an advertisement in the paper that really makes her question the “inequality” in their relationship. Really, Gollie doesn’t mind helping her friend, and she likes Bink the way she is—which includes some zany behavior. Bink works herself into a bind, and when the contraption explodes, it turns into a lovely piece of art.

In “Kudos, Bink and Gollie,” Gollie is perusing the first edition of Flickr’s Arcana, a collection of photographs boasting of people’s record-making collections. The two decide they’d like to appear in a future edition and figure out what they want to collect. Unfortunately, someone else has collected more and shows it off in a creative way that lands them in the book. They are disappointed, but are nevertheless gracious about it: Gollie says kudos to them, and Bink learns that kudos means congratulations. They are disappointed but find a solution that satisfies them both.


The clean and energetic illustrations primarily in black and white with the kind of splash of color Bink and Gollie bring to the page. They’ve fun details, but there isn’t the sort of density for long text—and there isn’t a lot of text. Much of even what I describe of the stories is from strong inference. Children needn’t have these episodes spelled out for them and the experienced storytelling team knows this.

Bink & Gollie are a perfect series for young readers in early grade school. They deal in friendship issues, and each brief episode is genuinely entertaining. They also employee good vocabulary and in Bink & Gollie: Two for One dabble in mathematics. So you get the nutritious with a good dose of healthy sugars.


of note: Bink & Gollie sorta look like the pair who wrote them in to existence: Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee respectively. I’m not going to make any more suppositions beyond this as to whether each echoes their characteristics as well.

Bink & Gollie website. which is a fun place to visit w/ your young readers.

{images are Tony Fucile’s and Candlewick’s, thank you.}

"review" · chapter/series · Children's · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · series

{book} ivy+bean make the rules

make the rules coverIvy + Bean Make the Rules (bk 9)

written by Annie Barrows

 illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Chronicle Books, 2012.

Hardcover, 127 pages.

Ivy + Bean is a series for young grade-schoolers that I just cannot resist following, even now that Natalya has “outgrown” them. And yet, who was that blue-haired young lady giggling from behind a book and coming up to me to set it down with a satisfied sigh? “Oh, mom, the zombie-part was awesome. And the Komodo-catcher…; and the…” I love Ivy + Bean.*

Bean’s older sister, Nancy, is going to Girl Power 4-Ever Camp, where she will do Crafts and Music and First Aid and other secret things that Bean will never know about because girls have to be eleven to go to Girl Power 4-Ever Camp. Bean doesn’t care. She doesn’t want to go to camp. She wouldn’t go even if they begged her. So ha. So ha ha. So — wait a second! Bean and Ivy can make their own camp, their own better camp. Welcome to Camp Flaming Arrow, where counselors Ivy and Bean will give a whole new meaning to Crafts, Music, First Aid, and hands-on learning!—jacket copy

Feeling a bit sorry for the younger daughter who WILL NOT go to Puppet Fun! the only camp for her age-group, Bean’s mom thinks Bean is finally old enough—if accompanied by Ivy—to go to Monkey Park without supervision. This means Bean is not constrained to Pancake Court or stuck figuring out how to build a tree house in the front yard with only one board. Using a flier from Nancy’s camp as a guide, Ivy and Bean decide to host their own camp, slinging old curtains over a low hanging branch in Monkey Park to make a tent. It doesn’t hurt that they can compare notes with Girl Power 4-Ever (a day camp) who is using Monkey Park, too–as are several other summer day camps actually.

make the rules p36-37

It isn’t long before Ivy and Bean find themselves with two campers who are visiting a relative who is not all that interested in keeping them entertained. This makes “Crafts” even more interesting where making friendship bracelets (like Girl Power 4-Ever) quickly morphs into Houdini cuffs from which Ivy shows them how to escape.

Ivy and Bean looked at each other with shining eyes. This was going to be good. No one ever let them make the rules.

“Rule number one!” said Bean. “You can only have as much fun as you are willing to get hurt!”

“What?” said Franny.

“Rule two!” said Ivy. “Live and learn!” Her mom said that a lot.

“Rule three!” yelled Bean. “The counselor is always right!”

Ivy began to giggle. “Rule four! If you want to make an omelet, you’re going to have to break some eggs!”

“If you can’t beat’em, join’em!” bellowed Bean.

“Don’t get mad, get even!” yelled Ivy.

“I don’t think this is a real camp,” said Franny.

“Time for crafts!” shouted Bean. (58-9).

As they work their way down the list of activities throughout the week, Camp Flaming Arrow expands in number under Ivy and Bean’s on-the-fly interpretations of what each activity on the flier might involve: “Nature Study, Mind/Body Strength Training, Drama, First Aid, Dance, Social Skills, Plus! Our Role Models: great Women of History.” Drama and First Aid were artfully combined in a chapter titled “Zombie Problem in Monkey Park.” Yeah, how did we ever manage First Aid without face paint and bandages? Ivy and Bean (and cohorts) are at their bold and creative best in Make the Rules.

The hilarious and disruptive escapades are enough of a reason to read Make the Rules, but the comparison to Camp Flaming Arrow to others that promise “Hands-On Learning in a Safe and Supportive Atmosphere” (Girl Power 4-Ever flier, p 13) is amusing—and poignant when, for instance, you compare Bean’s sense of “girl power” to Nancy’s on page 100 (parentheticals mine): “I can’t get up and dance with a wart,” wailed Nancy. “Everyone will think I’m gross!” She ran out of the kitchen. She was crying. (the wart is on her knuckle.) Bean’s mother sighed. She looked over at Bean (who had missed her earlier cue to not “see” the wart), and then she followed Nancy. Bean watched her go, frowning. What was that all about?” Another instance? Ivy shared about and then led an army as Briton Queen Boudicca (also known as Boadicea) for their “Great Woman of History,” Nancy mentions they had a slide show.

“Long live the queen!” yelled Franny.

“Yah! Yah!” squalled the tiny kids.

Their squalling made all their moms look up, and once those moms looked up, they started losing their minds. Something about sticks poking eyes. In no time at all, Boudicca’s warriors were kicked out of the fountain.

“I guess we’d better quit,” said Bean, squeezing out her shirt.

Ivy nodded, dumping the last of the Romans into the garbage can.

“This was the best day yet,” said Leo. (114)

a quick bit about the illustrations. long-time readers will remember that I adore Sophie Blackall’s work. Blackall and Barrows make for a great team, so highly expressive in text and image, the illustrations keeping good balance/timing with the text. Blackall adds fun detail to the creation of all the personalities we encounter in the stories, not just Ivy + Bean who are awesomely rendered. I’m sure I go on and on in my reviews of Books 7 & 8 (linked below).


recommendations: boys or girls, early readers 5-8 are the targeted age. for the fun, free-spirited sort kid who likes to laugh (so any child). a good gift for the child of your helicopter parent friend, and/or any child who can appreciate the factoid we find on page 94-5, “[Komodo dragons] don’t poop!”. This is a phenomenal series about friendship, childhood, and creative thinking.


check out the Ivy+Bean site via Chronicle Books; they have activities for kids and teachers, much more organized and directed than the muses themselves, of course. Be sure to click on the author and illustrator links at the first, as well.

my reviews of: Ivy + Bean: Book 7: What’s the Big Idea? and Ivy + Bean: Book 8 : No News is Good News

* and bless a Powell’s staffer for loving it, too, because it is, as of this date, on-sale. 30% off (follow book title link).

{all images belong to Sophie Blackall}

"review" · chapter/series · Children's · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · recommend · series

{book} Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, & Other Fatal Circumstances

A cure for those hours steeped in academia ala textbooks and essays? Lenore Look’s Alvin Ho. I’ve been intrigued by the title for awhile, Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, and Other Fatal Circumstances, so when I saw it face-out on the Library shelf I brought it home. This is the fourth book in a series that I’ve been assured will continue with a fifth in 2013. I picked up the other books from the Library today. Yes, I adored my first treatment that much.

Let’s face it. When it comes to death, everything is scary. Especially if your name is Alvin Ho and you maybe, sort of, agreed to go to a funeral for your Gunggung’s best friend (who was your friend too).

Alvin’s all freaked out, and here’s why:

  1. He starts seeing bad omens…everywhere.
  2. People are telling him creepy things, like how a dead body cools one degree a minute until it reaches room temperature.
  3. The dead body might wake up, like in the movies!
  4. He has to dress special for the funeral (including clean underwear!)
  5. He has to be brave. He has to look death smack in the eye.

But being brave is hard. What if Alvin’s not ready to say goodbye to someone he loves?

–inside jacket copy.

Alvin Ho is an anxious 2nd grade boy. I don’t know what is going on with him, but he seems frightened by most everything (real or imagined); which, of course, is the greatest source of the reader’s angst and amusement. The sweet comes from Alvin’s ability to articulate his anxieties with childlike brilliance (you know, that coincidental poignancy young people often express in their language).

“My vocal cords grew hair.

And the hair tangled into a hairball.

I gagged silently.

Everything in the room faded to gray.” (81)

Look has a great way of describing things.

The story surrounding a serious topic takes on the morbid curiosity and fantastic imagination of the young. For example, their living in Concord, Massachusetts, the local kids think the Historic House tours are led by the ghosts of the celebrity occupants. The story takes unexpected turns that remain consistent with the characterization—I realize this should be a given, but it feels especially organic in this instance.

 “I love it when he calls me that. Son. I love it more than my own name. I love it so much that hearing it could make me cry. So I did.” (157)

I must add my adoration for the family and friends.  Alvin has loving parents and grandparents; and his siblings are sources of frustration and affection, in other words, familiar. (Man does big brother Calvin sound like my two older brothers combined.) The school staff seem to get Alvin, and I absolutely love Flea. (“She’s a girl and she was all dressed up like a girl too, which, as everyone knows, is horrible, especially when it makes her look clean and shiny like a new car.” 179) Characters have their quirks without running risk of being cute. The father and his cursing in Shakespearean had me laughing out loud. There was a lot that had me laughing. The novel was punctuated by a deeply felt smile. Look has an excellent sense of timing. And her hand with suspense isn’t too shabby either.

 “Deep breathing helps when the heart falls out of your chest. I learned this from the psycho who is my therapist, but I could never remember to do it, until now.”(43)

I was so thoroughly charmed by this read. I don’t know how well it goes over with the young (intended) audience, but reading these with a child would be no chore what-so-ever.

The Illustrations have as much personality as the words. And LeUyen Pham does not skimp on the quantity. They are a really nice company and I think they free Look to spin lovely similes and metaphors. Want to cultivate a young writer?–or Illustrator? [check out Pham’s site.]


recommended: for any young grade-school reader (or learning to read), and even older elementary because they can probably laugh a bit more easily (having survived the earlier grades); for those who prefer books you may learn from but is not heavy-handed (obvious) with the messages. Look/Pham offer a light-hearted treatment of the subject Death and Dying without losing gravity.

of note: I noticed what seemed to be references to earlier books, but I was not lost or deprived of enjoying the read.

The different cultural responses to Death and burial (or non-) are nicely sewn in and very interesting. Not only would this make a fun read for a family, but a source of great conversation as well. Allergic to Dead Bodies is a good Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) suggestion that will help you include the younger members of the family.


Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, and Other Fatal Circumstances

By Lenore Look, Pictures by LeUyen Pham

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2011.

187 pages, hardcover. Pages 189-197 “Alvin Ho’s Deadly Glossary”

Ages 6-10.

"review" · chapter/series · Children's · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend

clara lee and the apple pie dream

Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream

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,

“What’s gorgeous?”

“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…


Jenny Han’s site. Julia Kuo’s site.