Wednesday, March 09, 2022

New From Here

Yang, Kelly. New From Here
March 1st 2022 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Knox and his family live in Hong Kong, where their Chinese born mother, Julie, is a highly successful banker, and their US born father is in business. He gets along with older brother Bowen and younger sister Lea in typical sibling ways. When the Corona Virus is detected in China, the parents decide that while the father will stay home because he has to work, the mother will take the children to California, where the family maintains the father's childhood home. Since his father is his greatest ally when he frequently messes up, Knox is devastated. Getting to California while taking hand sanitizing and masking precautions is tough, and settling into their home is difficult. Working and schooling remotely with Hong Kong institutions proves too much for the mother, who loses her job, and for the kids, who don't like online schooling. They are enrolled in the local school in February 2020, and Knox does like his teacher, and makes a friend with another Asian-American boy, Christopher, whose parents own a local restaurant. The mother, used to the father's housework contributions, struggles with cooking and laundry, and Know and Bowen have to share a room. Bowen finds middle school difficult when the Coronovirus spreads and racial tensions increase, especially since he looks more like his mother than his father. Knox is obsessed with trying to get his father to visit the US, so embarks on several money making ventures, like selling his mother's carefully collected heirlooms at a garage sale and later helping Christopher's restaurant do deliveries. His income, however, is offset by the trouble he gets into, like knocking over a pop display at a supermarket with a motorized cart, and he learns that his impulsivity and poor choices might be reflecting the ADHD diagnosis his parents have hidden from him. COVID hits the US, tensions increase, schools go remote, and then it gets worse; Knox is ill with COVID. Will Knox and his family be able to reunite and survive the international pandemic together?
Strengths: There have been very few international families in middle grade literature who are not refugees, (aside from Kamata's Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters  Levine's The Thing I'm Most Afraid Of, and Mendez's a Wish Upon a Stray, I can't think of any) so this was a fascinating look at a family who had roots in two countries. I loved all the details about the siblings getting along, about the mother struggling to get everything done on her own, and about the difficulties of settling in to a new school. Future readers will be enthralled by all of the COVID related precautions, and we can only hope that in ten years they will be shocked at the treatment of Asian-Americans. Knox's ADHD was interesting, and I could see a second book focusing more on his story, covering how he handles school and soccer when the world is not in pandemic mode. An interesting treatment of a particular point in history that has me wondering: will future generations need an entire book about a child fighting a bad case of COVID, the way we have a handful of books about chidlren in the 1950s with polio? Or, sadly, about a child who loses both parents to the disease?
Weaknesses: This was a slightly longer than usual middle grade book (368 pages), which will deter some of my struggling readers. There were a lot of threads that could have been trimmed in order to make this a tighter, more focused story. This isn't a surprise, considering the turn around time on publishing novels, but I wish the book had felt less rushed and more focused, since it has such good messages. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing for historical purposes, but Walters' Don't Stand So Close to Me  has had slightly lower than normal circulation for a new book. Yang's Front Desk series has been super popular in my library, and is a Battle of the Books selection as well as a lit circle choice in the 6th grade, so will be picked up on that strength. Perhaps it's just too soon for children to want to read about the start of the pandemic, while we are still struggling with it?

Yang, Kelly. Yes We Will: Asian Americans Who Shaped This Country 
May 3rd 2022 by Dial Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

If you're a big fan of Ms. Yang's, keep her upcoming collective biography picture book on your radar as well! I have to admit that I was expecting something more along the lines of the Wallace's First Generation: 36 Trailblazing Immigrants and Refugees Who Make America Great, and was a little disappointed that I couldn't buy a copy to cut up for bulletin boards. This is more of an overview; to accompany a poem about the impact of Asian Americans on the country, there are fantastic illustrations of various people by a wide variety of Asian American artists. The names of the people are included on the picture, and there are great notes in the back with further information. Great for classroom read aloud or as a springboard for research! 

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