Review: The Year of the Dog

“But my friends didn’t call me Chinese, Taiwanese, or American. They called me Grace, my American name.” p. 19

The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin.
Little, Brown, and Co, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2006 (my edition 2007).
Realistic fiction, 140 pages + excerpts.
Lexile:  690L  .
AR Level:  4.2 (worth 3.0 points)  .

In the Year of the Dog, Pacy is supposed to find her best friend and figure out her talent.  But what could it be?

The Year of the Dog cover

This is one of those books that I’ve had for a while but didn’t pick up.  I may have been saving it or planning to wait until we got another in the series, I’m just not sure.  Anyway, this story tells about one year in Pacy’s life, starting with the Lunar New Year for the Year of the Dog and ending with the Lunar New Year for the Year of the Pig.

An aspect of this I didn’t expect was how there were stories embedded into the larger narrative, just like Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.  These stories were realistic fiction instead of fantasy, but they worked the same way and I greatly enjoyed them.  The stories allowed Pacy to be connected even if many of her relatives live far away.

One of the best parts about this is that early on Pacy explains how she is Taiwanese, but to many people that means she’s Chinese, and how her parents speak both languages.  I learned this the hard way and am glad our children will learn through an adorable book instead.

Lin does include microaggression, for example a cafeteria worker accuses her of going through the line twice.  Her friend sticks up for her, and when they go into the cafeteria, she finds that there is another Taiwanese girl who just started at their school!

She also is told by other children that Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz can’t be Asian, so she decides not to audition at a school play.  Later when her family goes to a Taiwanese camp, other girls make fun of her because she can’t speak Taiwanese or Chinese.  They call her Twinkie and say she’s too Americanized.  The way her mom handles this (without even knowing what exactly happened) is perfect and very affirming.

Another thing this book explains is having two names.  Pacy and her sisters have one name with their family, but in school they have a different, “American” name.  Pacy’s name is Grace.  Yes, this is a semi-autobiographical novel, which explains how it is so rich in detail.  There are adorable little pictures throughout.  It seems somehow unfair that any one person would be gifted with so many talents!

The Year of the Dog p 24 resized
Page 24 of The Year of the Dog shows the celebration of “The Day of the Unicorn”

Spoiler  |  The best part of this is the title of the book Pacy writes for her class – The Ugly Vegetables, which is the title of one of Grace Lin’s picture books that you can buy!  It was already on my wishlist, but I really want to get this one now.  | End of Spoiler |

One weird aspect of this book was the font.  I wasn’t a fan of the main font used in the text.  When the stories are told, this font is italicized, which I actually found easier to read than the main font.  Thankfully the book is short and a good read, so it wasn’t that big of an issue.

This book had the perfect mix of iconic American experiences (science fair, writing a book, going away for summer camp) and more specific cultural experiences (how her family celebrates the Lunar New Year, planting Chinese vegetables, lucky envelopes for a newborn).  It’s accessible to students from any culture, and the broad themes will be relatable to anyone who’s ever wondered what their purpose is in life.

This was a bit different than my expectation, but I greatly enjoyed it.  I think if a class or children could follow the stories-within-a-story, then it would make a wonderful read-aloud.  We definitely will be keeping an eye out for the rest of this series, which so far continues with The Year of the Rat and Dumpling Days.

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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