"review" · Children's · concenter · Picture book · recommend · Tales

a fortunate find

30 days of pbDay TwoGoldy Luck and the Three Pandas

By Natasha Yim, Illustrated by Grace Zong

Charlesbridge 2014.

GoldyLuckThreePandas_300small “One Chinese New Year, Goldy Luck’s mother asks her to take a plate of turnip cakes to the neighbors. The Chans aren’t home, but that doesn’t stop Goldy. She tries out their rice porridge, their chairs, and their beds—with disastrous results. What an unlucky way to start the year!”—Publisher’s Comments

GoldyLuck_4-5leftStill waking for the day, Goldy runs the errand for her mother rather begrudgingly. Finding the Chan’s apartment empty, she also finds the congee (rice porridge) too much to resist, same with the chairs and beds. Of course, the Chan’s know who she is when she runs away. It is a wonderful twist that Goldy cannot forget what she’s done and how it affects her neighbors. The apology goes over well and she begins her new year on a high note, suggesting maybe that some wealth and good luck can be made, not merely wished or destined.


Yim is humorous, and the illustrations (acrylic on paper) carry the same kind of warmth and dry-wit. Yim’s version of the classic tale has details that make the story relatable to modern audiences, and manages to entertain and write a good lesson. Goldy is rewritten from a selfish, invading figure to a child who can be a bit foolish and unlucky, but who can also be sympathetic and fortunate.

goldyluck interior

The illustrations are engaging, with just the right balance of realism and play (like the text itself). Yim and Zong have created a successful partnership here. The colors and the movement, the openness, are attractive and easy on the eyes. And if so desired, only reading the pictures will tell a great deal of the story itself.

An “Author’s Note” follows the story wherein it further illuminates the themes and actions of the story, “Before New Year’s Day it is customary for people to clean their houses, repay their debts, and resolve old arguments in order to star fresh in the new year, as Goldy’s mother advises her.” And there is a translation for a well-wishing she uses in the story with a pronunciation guide in both Cantonese and Mandarin.


“The Chinese Zodiac” and “A Lucky Character” are nice paragraphs accompanying a rather adorable rendering of the Chinese zodiac. The final bonus feature is not the least for being last: a “Turnip Cake” recipe!

A delightful read…for an occasion or no. It will be one to own, and share.


Natasha Yim  also authored Otto’s Rainy Day (Charlesbridge 2000); Cixi the Dragon Empress (Goosebottom 2011); and Sacajawea and the Shoshone with illus. Albert Nguyen (Goosebottom 2012)

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at five she moved to Singapore, and at 10 Hong Kong. She traces her love of writing back to First Form English class (~7th grade). When studying in college in California, Yim earned her first BA in English Lit w/ a Writing emphasis, but went on to receive an M.S. in Counseling Psychology. “Most of my job career has been in counseling or social work. […] Along the way, I’ve written articles for regional and national magazines and newspapers, and three picture books.” (My Story)  “In addition to being a children’s author, I’m a freelance writer and playwright.” (Other Writing)

Grace Zong  Studied at RISD; She splits her time between New York and Korea. She also illustrated Orange Peel’s Pocket by Rose A. Lewis (Harry N. Abrams 2010), her first picture book.

{images belong to Grace Zong}


"review" · concenter · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · recommend · Tales · wondermous

{book} starry river of the sky

starry-river-of-the-sky-grace-linStarry River of the Sky by Grace Lin

Little, Brown & Co., 2012.

hardcover, 289 pages w/ illustrations by Grace Lin.

The moon is missing from the remote Village of Clear Sky, but only a young boy named Rendi seems to notice! Rendi has run away from home and is now working as a chore boy at the village inn. He can’t help but notice the village’s peculiar inhabitants and their problems — where has the innkeeper’s son gone? Why are Master Chao and Widow Yan always arguing? What is the crying sound Rendi keeps hearing? And how can crazy, old Mr. Shan not know if his pet is a toad or a rabbit?

But one day, a mysterious lady arrives at the Inn with the gift of storytelling, and slowly transforms the villagers and Rendi himself. As she tells more stories and the days pass in the Village of Clear Sky, Rendi begins to realize that perhaps it is his own story that holds the answers to all those questions.

Newbery Honor author Grace Lin brings readers another enthralling fantasy featuring her marvelous full-color illustrations. Starry River of the Sky is filled with Chinese folklore, fascinating characters, and exciting new adventures.—jacket copy

After that copy, need I say more? besides my witness that what it has to say is not in the least bit misleading. Starry River of the Sky is a stunning companion to the exceedingly wonderful Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Those lovely inclusions of stories within the greater story is as well done, and the interplay with the greater story is as flawless. The rhythms Lin finesses in Starry River never break stride for the insets, where a character relays a story and a title with images is formed and the font changes for the telling. The sweetest part of the novel is how one comes to realize that those inhabiting the book are creating a fantastical story of their own, becoming a part of a folk loric legacy their culture so lovingly embraces. The morals found in the tales are pieces that are woven into a novel that would capture a moral of its own, using the collection of “fascinating characters” Lin has collected and imagined.


Starry River of the Sky is a story of lost objects and subjects. And why they have gone away is a mystery to unfold. Who is Rendi? Where has he come from? and why did he run away? What of the innkeeper’s own son? Lin is both graceful and concrete with her imagery when relaying the situations of her characters as well as developing the characters themselves. She does this quickly, adept with packing complexity into a lightly paced 289 pages (to include illustrations). The stories told do illuminate quite a bit, and we fully understand when Madame Chang tells Rendi that “when people tell stories, they share things about themselves” (264).

“It is better to light a lantern than bemoan the darkness” (87) Madame Chang quietly shares in a moment, but the idea saturates the novel as she comes to demand Rendi share his own stories and seek the solutions that will relieve him of his troubles.

Rendi embodies the kind of anger and restlessness found in the people, stories, and spaces that occupy his surroundings.

“Mr. Shan,” Rendi finally said, as they reached the front of the house, “what did you mean about the moon?”

“The moon?” Mr. Shan said in his vague way. “The moon means peace. It is the image of harmony and peace.”

Rendi tried again. “You said without the moon, you forgot everything. And you said that you didn’t have a home.”

“Yes,” Mr. Shan said. “You cannot have a home without peace.” (161)

starry river of the skyThe absence of the moon signifies more than just who/what is missing, but the potential holding its breath for a hopeful ending—a potential inseparable from Rendi more than any other character. And yet there are plenty of characters the Reader will become attached to, ugly toad included. Seeking and finding the lost becomes as paramount as maintaining a healthy balance, and desiring the happiness of another over the self.

“Rendi,” Madame Chang said, her calm eyes bringing him to stillness, “sometimes the best decision is a painful one, but it is never one made out of anger.” (187)

I adore how tangible Lin makes the mythic seem to the reader. The affect of cultural & familial legacy features prominently. They live amid the evidence of great stories past, and they continue them, even participate in them (e.g. snails). And the impossibility of the stories become probable, which leads toward an inventiveness, a creativity, that makes reading Lin’s books so inspiring and pleasurable. Still, for all the richness of lore Lin provides, the simply stated is just as welcome–“The secret to peace is forgiveness” (249) — even as it can be just as elusive in how one is to move that particular mountain or replace the moon to its rightful place. However peace may be accomplished, Lin is nothing if not empowering of the young in Starry River of the Sky.


starry river of the sky page

of note w/ recommendations:  Starry River of the Sky does not feel message-y in actual experience. and it also has some great juvenile characterizations, humor, and some exciting action scenes; even a few gross-out moments, come to think of it. So this is a GREAT read for boys & girls of the grade-school set. It is the kind of entertaining read that also happens to expose the young reader to really good writing and storytelling technique.

If you’ve not read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, please do. [my review.] And if you love Lore/Myth (faerie, folk, or however you like to describe them), these are books to own.

{images belong to Grace Lin}

"review" · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend


Angelfish by Laurence Yep

Putnam’s Sons, 2001.

hardcover, 216 pages.

Laurence Yep’s The Star Maker is on my concenter list and the Library has yet to get it, but I have confidence they will, they have several of his books. I checked out Angelfish on a whim while hanging out at the end of the alphabet in Juvenile Fiction.

Just when things were going so well, Robin accidentally breaks Mr. Tsow’s fish store window. Going to her parents risks grounding, and then she would miss the ballet recital and her big role as Beauty in an abbreviated Beauty & the Beast. Mr. Tsow agrees that she can work off the insurance premium with a fairly flexible schedule by doing chores about the store–not that he is all that gracious about having her around. His insults are incredibly harsh; calling Robin a half-person, because she’s only half-Chinese, among other things.

Challenged by Tsow’s belief that she is lazy and irresponsible Robin sticks around. She soon comes to see him as the Beast like from the play and is convinced he is hiding some deep hurt that has created such a monstrous shell. With her grandmother’s help, she seeks to unravel the clues of his past.

The young teen-aged* Robin would seem a prime target for having an unsavory boyfriend who needs saving, mama! but for the character of Mr. Tsow. His cryptic statements, his unrepentant bigotry and certainty is intriguing; and he isn’t easily dismissed as not worth her trouble. That Robin’s maternal grandmother has come to America and provokes a desire in Robin to learn about her Chinese heritage is another. Part of understanding where Mr. Tsow is coming from is to understand his past. The grandmother would help Robin navigate these waters, providing a story of her own and physical evidence that old wounds still haunt the present.

Angelfish is Juvenile Fiction and has its audience in mind. The prose are not looking for the literateur, just clean straightforward storytelling. I cannot guess on the transparency in some of the plot, but I am guessing that most Young Readers will figure out pretty early on that when the limping Mr. Tsow talks about his friend the dancer, he is actually speaking about himself. Robin stays one step denser and another step clumsier to allow for revelation, or does the author have a surprise in mind?  Near the end of the jacket copy, it reads, “To their horror, they discover that he was a victim of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.” When the Chinese Cultural Revolution is mentioned for the first time, Robin doesn’t truly understand the implications, and I am guessing most readers won’t either. It is to their’s and the Reader’s horror when you discover Mr. Tsow’s victimization.

Robin is driven by curiosity at first, but she has a tender heart and great compassion for Mr. Tsow. By then we already known that she is a very loving individual. She is brave and determined, very focused on her craft; but still very much a growing up girl navigating the world. She is a strong female protagonist of not the most usual sort; in ways that Belle is. Laurence does a beautiful job with his use of Beauty and the Beast. And then there is his lovely metaphoric use of the Angelfish.

Set in San Francisco, Yep takes around the Richmond neighborhood and the Chinese-American cultural landscape. The feel is less educational as much as incidentally informational. You learn as Robin learns, of course, she is still discovering her heritage and how to negotiate her double culture. Two halves, a hybrid, Robin has to deal with bigotry and self-acceptance; with antiquated notions and contemporary ignorance.

For all the drama, there is humor. Robin’s ballet partner Thomas is comedic, as well as the caricatures of Auntie Ruby, and even Madame to some extent. Yep keeps a lighthearted and determinedly optimistic tone to off-set the dark intrigue surrounding Mr. Tsow; buoying the story in the kindness of the human heart and the hope of new beginnings, and families who fight to save their own.

I had thought to at least make it half-way before bed last night and ended up forcing myself to put the book down only a few chapters from the end for the sake of an early morning–Tsow was that compelling. 216 pages is a quick read and the writing isn’t hard, but the emotional content may be—Yep employs the perfect amount of gravity. I would recommend Angelfish to any Juvenile Fiction audience member, especially those interested in a not wholly-white protagonist, a diverse cast, and in cultural information and revelation. Yep is adept in writing about the world of Ballet, so do hand this to your resident ballerina as well. [was gratified to find those few years of N’s ballet lessons came in handy.]

*the novel never gives her an age, but I am guessing since she is en pointe and in school and able to work w/out question she is 15/16-ish; not that I think it matters all that much.