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In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson

by Marilee Hong

This last year my 10-year old daughter, Alyson, took an interest in baseball and collecting cards. She would follow the Padres games and learn the facts about different players.
A visiting aunt was amazed how in a short time Alyson knew so much about the sport. She asked if Alyson had ever read In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. My ears perked up because just a few weeks before, Alyson's 4th grade teacher had suggested the same book.

"Who wrote this book? Why is it a book we should read?" I asked. "It is about a Chinese girl from China who comes to America and likes baseball," the aunt said.

The 4th grade teacher said it was about a Chinese girl who does not speak English well, is teased, but likes baseball very much. I was excited because someone had written a book about a Chinese girl in America. Does she face the same insecurities shared by those of us growing up Chinese in America?

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson is a children's book, but not exclusively for children. It is a book adults cannot help but enjoy and relate to with a touch of nostalgia. There are some very humorous, poignant moments as well as a few subtle lessons to be learned. The book did not disappoint me.

The book is based on Bette Bao Lord's days when she first comes to America. Shirley Temple Wong, 10-years old, comes from China with her mother to join her father who lives in Brooklyn, New York. As you can imagine, she has lots to learn and adapt to, but what troubles her most is learning English well and making friends. Her mother constantly reminds her to "never forget China or lose her Chinese." Yet, Shirley wants to fit in with her classmates. In the spring, she learns to play stickball and catches baseball fever. Becoming very interested in the local team, she admires everyone's hero, Jackie Robinson, star of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Somehow the parallel between what Jackie Robinson has achieved in America through baseball, and what Shirley can achieve, given that America is the land of opportunity, becomes very clear to her. The storyline is simple - a little girl overcoming difficulties and coming out on top. You cannot help cheering for Shirley and feeling good about her accomplishments.

I asked my daughters what they thought of the book. They repeated the humorous parts, but one of them put it in perspective, "I like how she tried to be like other Americans and kept her Chinese."
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