Roth's sumptuous, sophisticated collages fittingly chronicle this affecting tale of a Chinese-American retiree and his grandson. On his 70th birthday, Mr. Kang makes three wishes. "I want to read The New York Times every day. I want to paint poems every day. And I want a bird, a hua mei, of my own." The hua mei, a Chinese bird, connects Mr. Kang with his grandfather, who also owned such a bird, and becomes a metaphor through which Roth explores the idea of freedom and choice. On Sundays, Mr. Kang gathers with his friends and their birds at Sara Delano Roosevelt Park in New York City, and when he brings his grandson, Sam, along one day, Sam wonders aloud if the hua mei is happy in his cage. This prompts Mr. Kang to set his beloved bird free. But when grandfather and grandson return home, the bird is waiting for them. In prose as spare as Mr. Kang's poetry, Roth delicately explores generational and cultural issues ("We save, in old, grown heads,/ a full-blown rose in summer,/ the sound of bamboo leaves when/ the wind is gentle,/ the taste of mooncakes"). Arresting artwork conveys cityscapes and interiors formed from items as varied as photographs, silk brocade fabric and newspaper clippings: Roth overlays a festive birthday celebration atop a Chinese menu with wisps of pink tissue paper; Mr. Kang's hua mei sports elegant cut-paper "feathers." This poignant volume honors the value of one's native heritage while paying homage to America's great diversity. Ages 4-8. (Jan.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Sam's grandfather, Mr. Kang, has retired after years of hard work in Chinatown. Now he has time to read the N.Y. Times, write/paint poems in Chinese calligraphy, and enjoy his hua mei bird, which he takes to the park every Sunday to join his friends and their birds. One Sunday, when Sam joins him, he suggests that his grandfather set the bird free. To the surprise of all, grandfather does. But he is happy when the bird returns to him. The story is rich with images of both long ago China and Chinese culture now, along with love and companionship. The collage illustrations do more to set the tone than to add to the narrative. Some cut and pasted bits of photographs identify places, while other pages depict an event. The stunning full-page portrait of the bird made of fringed cut paper has it sitting on a jet-black rail against a red background. Roth adds notes about the source of her story and about the collage materials. 2001, National Geographic Society, $16.95. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 2-5-In a richly layered and vibrantly illustrated book, Roth creates a story about living in two cultures. Mr. Kang, now retired from cooking in a Chinese restaurant, wants to read the New York Times, paint poems, and take his caged bird-a 70th-birthday present from his wife-to the park where he can reminisce with his Chinese friends. Each Sunday, he takes the hua mei to the park where it can sing with other caged birds. But when the talk turns to cages, and Mr. Kang's grandson ventures that maybe the creature wants to be free, like an American, Mr. Kang links the bird's imprisonment to his own feelings while he made noodles for 50 years and impulsively releases his pet. Sadly, the relatives return to their apartment with the empty cage but there the hua mei is waiting to fly onto Sam's head and go inside. Roth's beautifully textured collage illustrations use Chinese papers and textiles bordered by pieces of photographs, plus a variety of page design and a "cut-out" font, to reflect culture, character, and settings. An author's note explains Roth's debts to her own family history while providing children with insight into how, prodded by a news item, she blended family memories and artifacts, research, an actual site, and a voluminous paper collection into a moving story.-Susan Hepler, Burgundy Farm Country Day School, Alexandria, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.