Friday, June 14, 2019

Guy Friday- Pie in the Sky

Lai, Remy. Pie in the Sky
May 14th 2019 by Henry Holt and Co.
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Jingwen, his annoying little brother Yanghao, and his mother all leave their home and grandparents to move to Australia. This had been the plan for a while, but it changed a bit after the father died in a car accident right before Jingwen's birthday. Now, the mother is working in a bakery (since the grandparents run a no-nonsense, serviceable bakery back home) and is very busy. There is no chance that the family will be able to open the bakery the father envisioned and called Pie in the Sky. He wanted to make beautiful, expensive cakes, and he and Jingwen would practice baking them. With his mother gone all the time and pressure at school building up, Jingwen starts to bake cakes at home even though his mother has forbidden it. He takes his savings to buy the ingredients, and he and Yanghao have to eat all of the cake, or give some to their neighbor, pretending it's from the bakery where their mother works. At school, Jingwen struggles with English, and therefore can't do much of the work. He also finds it hard to make friends, especially when he hears Ben, a boy whom he thinks is nice and who might be his friend, laughing with another boy that Jingwen is "slow". Ben also seems to like to bake, and brings Jingwen cake, but Jingwen suspects it is a joke, and throws the cake away. The mother almost catches on several times that cakes are being made, and takes the cookbooks to work, but the boys go to the library to get recipe books and continue on their quest. When Yanghao finally makes Jingwen really mad and then runs away, the boys' secrets come to light. The mother steps in to help more, and Jingwen finally talks to Ben to set things right, and the boys bond over their cake baking, since Ben's mother owns the bakery where Jingwen's works.
Strengths: This is an illustrated novel, and those always do well. The pictures are a great way for Jingwen to show how out of place he feels; when he doesn't understand the language around him, he portrays others as space aliens with incomprehensible symbols coming from their mouths. There are not a lot of books that talk about the process of assimilating into a new school culture, with Weeks and Varadarajan 's Save Me a Seat and Freeman's One Good Thing About America being notable exceptions, and this is an excellent portrayal of the feelings of trying to fit in while missing home. It's fairly upbeat and funny, but with the underlying grief about the father and missing the grandparents. 
The brother was beyond annoying, so I didn't find him as funny as some readers did. Also, this comes very close to be sodden with grief about the father. Not quite, but the father could just have easily had to stay with the grandparents instead of being killed. I also was surprised that the Australian school system seemed to lack support for English Language Learners. I hope that our recent immigrant children are not just thrown into the deep end like Jingwen was!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and I can see this being a good mirror and window book for my younger readers. While 8th graders should read this, the cartoon cover might turn them away.
Ms. Yingling

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