The Gold-Threaded Dress

( 1 )


"A fine novel for early independent readers that conveys lots of information - about Thailand and making friends." - NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

In Thailand she was named Oy, but here in America the teachers call her Olivia. Other things are not so easy to change, however. When Oy draws a portrait of herself with brown hair and eyes as round as coins, her classmate Frankie makes fun of her and calls her Chinese. And the popular girl Liliandra barely speaks to her, until she ...

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"A fine novel for early independent readers that conveys lots of information - about Thailand and making friends." - NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

In Thailand she was named Oy, but here in America the teachers call her Olivia. Other things are not so easy to change, however. When Oy draws a portrait of herself with brown hair and eyes as round as coins, her classmate Frankie makes fun of her and calls her Chinese. And the popular girl Liliandra barely speaks to her, until she learns that Oy has something very special: a Thai dancing dress from her grandmother, shimmering with pink silk and golden threads, that makes her look like a princess. Will Oy risk shaming her family to win Liliandra's approval - and be part of the club she has envied from afar? With compassion and rare insight, Carolyn Marsden tells a simple tale about a young girl who searches for acceptance in a complex culture, while learning to treasure all that she is.

When Oy and her Thai American family move to a new neighborhood, her third-grade classmates tease and exclude her because she is different.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Zeroing in on a very specific situation, first-time author Marsden hits the issues of this age group squarely and truthfully. Fourth grader Oy, a Thai-American student new to a predominantly Mexican-American school, struggles to fit in with the popular clique of girls led by Liliandra. When Liliandra knocks into Oy and a picture of the heroine in a ceremonial Thai dress flutters from her backpack, the trouble begins (" `Oooooh, pretty,' said the girls following Liliandra. `Like a princess' "). The ringleader applies peer pressure until Oy agrees to smuggle the prized dress to school, in order to earn membership in Liliandra's club. Disaster results. Despite the brevity of the novel, Marsden plants details showing the importance of respect for position and education in Oy's home. So when the club initiation rite backfires, the consequences reach much further in Oy's mind than a reprimand at school. A touching friendship also develops with a boy who begins as a bully but softens when he sees Oy's predicament (it turns out he has some Asian heritage as well). The heroine's ultimate decision to take the high road results in a deeper understanding of her parents, including their shared experience as outsiders ("Remember, little daughter," her mother says, "The children are interested in this dress not because it makes them look the same, but because it makes them look different"). Ages 7-9. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Written from the author's own experience as the mother of a half-Thai daughter, this short chapter book captures Oy's dilemma in trying to fit in at a new school. In reduced circumstances, Kun Pa has moved the family to a poor neighborhood while he continues his job as a cook in a Thai restaurant. The class is made up of children whose parents come from Somalia, Mexico, China, and Finland, among other countries. Fourth-grader Oy wants to join the "cool" girls play area, and under orders from the bully Liliandra, daringly brings to school her beloved pink silk dancing dress so that others in the club can try it on. When the dress is torn, Oy and her would-be friends are hauled into the principal's office, and Oy must take home and translate the letter about the incident which the principal writes. But her parents are understanding, the dress can be mended, and Oy has a new friend in Frankie, a boy who has seemed to tease her about being Chinese in a Mexican-American neighborhood, but who turns out to be part Chinese himself. While the story is somewhat woodenly told and the issues with Liliandra and the club are unresolved, those who are from or live in neighborhoods of mixed-ancestry families will recognize the conflicts of children who think they "look different." Oy's concern with almond-shaped eyes and round ones (are Caucasian-shaped eyes really "round"?) is mentioned several times. Her Thai-speaking immigrant parents are loving, steady, and reasonable but wishing their daughter to learn more in school and not waste time in having too much fun with math. In today's classrooms, the book presents many talking points and enough information about Thai culture to provoke more inquiry. Noauthor's note is added, so teachers will want to preserve the back jacket flap that explains how the author came to write this story. 2002, Candlewick Press,
— Susan Hepler
School Library Journal
Gr 3-5-Fourth-grader Oy is the new girl in school. She wants to make friends, hold the pet hamster, and be invited into the in-crowd's clubhouse. She would really like Frankie to stop calling her Chinese, because she's Thai. When a photograph that shows her in ceremonial Thai dress falls on the ground, her classmates become obsessively enchanted with this vision of her. The leader of the clique, Liliandra, demands the dress as Oy's initiation fee to gain admittance into the clubhouse. An almost unbearable conflict ensues within her. The treasured garment from her grandmother symbolizes familiar tradition and fond memories, but her need for friends wins out. The girls carelessly grab at it and try pulling it on over their too-large bodies, and the delicate fabric is stretched and torn. When the teacher is drawn over by all the commotion, Oy is humiliated at being called the instigator of these antics. Crushed by the near destruction of her beautiful dress, she must now take home a note telling her mother of the awful event. This is a simple story about the painstaking effort of trying to fit in. It's a perfect choice to read with youngsters battling for friends, and caught within their own tangle of popularity. The Gold-Threaded Dress will have its place as a favorite for its natural voice and development of uncomfortable, yet familiar, predicaments.-Alison Follos, North Country School, Lake Placid, NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Oy silently cries out in frustration that her teacher and classmates do not accept her as Thai; her teacher issues her an "easier-to-remember" English name; and her fourth-grade classmates pull their round eyes into slits and call her "Chinita," little Chinese. Revealing the challenges young immigrants face in a mixed-race school environment, Oy feels torn between the respect she feels for her Thai culture and the acceptance she wants from her American culture. When she draws her family picture, their eyes are as round as those of the boy who teases her most, further exemplifying her will to fit in. She typifies the average fourth-grader's yearning in a way that each reader will recognize or remember. Acceptance into a campus girl's club is contingent upon allowing chubby club members to wear her petite, gold-threaded dress. The slow plot builds to climactic action as school authorities disband and discipline the whole club, whose members are discovered lined up in their underwear waiting for a turn to try on, inadvertently soil, and tear the delicate garment, symbolic of Oy's tender spirit. In an emotional buildup, Oy is forced to face her choices and reconsider her goals. Marsden, in her debut, draws on her own experience as she describes a loving family guiding their daughter in a difficult time. Those who read this short, character-driven story will remember the parallels between their personal experience and the forceful message, concluding that being kinder to new immigrants builds delightful friendships and provides interesting insights into rich cultures. (Fiction. 8-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763629939
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 2/14/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 80
  • Sales rank: 317,555
  • Age range: 7 - 9 Years
  • Lexile: 710L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.74 (h) x 0.23 (d)

Meet the Author

Carolyn Marsden was born in Mexico City to missionary parents. She has been a writer all her life, but THE GOLD-THREADED DRESS is her first book. About THE GOLD-THREADED DRESS she says, "I wrote this story when my half-Thai daughter was being teased at school. As a parent and elementary school teacher, I watched her struggle to establish a cultural identity. I became fascinated with a conflict that is common to many children in our increasingly diverse United States." Carolyn Marsden has an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College. After spending the last twenty-five years in Tucson, Arizona, Carolyn Marsden now lives by the ocean in La Jolla, California, with her husband and two daughters.

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Read an Excerpt


"Chinese, Japanese." Frankie pulled at the edges of his eyes so they looked like slits. "Americanese!" He let his eyes spring back to normal.

"I am not Chinese!" Oy wanted to say. But she just shook her head slightly. She put her hands over the picture she'd been drawing.
Miss Elsa had her back turned, helping other children clean out the hamster cage.

Liliandra was holding the straw-colored hamster, Butterscotch. She transferred him from one bent elbow to the other as he tried to scratch her with his tiny claws.

Oy hoped that one day Miss Elsa would allow her to hold Butterscotch, but she'd never asked. Other children always seemed to crowd around the cage first.

Frankie teased Oy when Miss Elsa wasn't looking. Because she was new, Oy didn't know whether to talk to her teacher about this or not. Maybe it wasn't serious. Maybe being thought Chinese wasn't a bad thing even though Frankie was trying to make her think so.

"Then what are you?" asked Frankie, putting both hands in his pockets, where he kept his special trading cards.

She was about to say: Thai. From Thailand. A country near China, but not China. A country with elephants and green jungle. But Frankie was already talking to Santiago instead.

Miss Elsa turned around. Oy uncovered her picture. It showed her family. But instead of giving them straight black hair and almond-shaped eyes, she'd chosen the brown crayon for the hair and had made the eyes round as coins.

At her old school, no one had said anything to her about being Asian. But since her family had moved across town and she had to go to fourth grade in a new school after the year had begun, this boy Frankie was already bothering her.

"What are you drawing?" Frankie continued. "It couldn't be you and your family. They're all Chinese. Those people look Mexican."

Mexican? She was trying to make them look American. She glanced up at Frankie's eyes. If only she had eyes like all the others, Frankie wouldn't be teasing her.

Because of Frankie, kids on the playground called her China, Spanish for Chinese, or sometimes Chinita, little Chinese.

Before Oy came from Thailand, she'd looked at pictures of Americans. They had light hair and skin and eyes. When she'd arrived in America though, she saw people of all colors, including very dark ones with black curly hair and even Thai people. Here at school, the children were mostly brown with round eyes.

Just then Liliandra let go of Butterscotch with a squeal. Frankie jumped forward to grab the furry body scampering past his sneakers. When he picked up the hamster, he turned toward Oy. For a moment, it seemed that he would reach out and hand her the soft little animal. But he walked away instead, making a show of stroking and cooing to Butterscotch.


THE GOLD-THREADED DRESS by Carolyn Marsden. Copyright (c) 2006 by Carolyn Marsden. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.

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