Cheng's (Marika) vivid writing and Young's (Beyond the Great Mountain, reviewed above) resonant illustrations mesh perfectly in this story about the close bonds of family. Xiao Mei, an 11-year-old Chinese-American girl, travels from Ohio to Shanghai to visit her Chinese relatives. The novel unspools in humorous, often poignant free-verse poems. The one called "Shanghai Messenger" describes the lone traveler's anxiety on the plane, until she discovers a note in her pocket, written by Nai Nai, her grandmother: "You are my messenger./ Look everything./ Remember." After Xiao Mei arrives in China, she is swept into the arms of her extended family. She makes wontons with her Auntie ("Pork, green onions,/ each wrapper gets a bit,/ then fold the thin dough/ and pinch tight," with spot illustrations that demonstrate the steps), visits Suzhou Gardens ("Great Grandfather walked here/ and Nai Nai/ and Auntie/ and my cousins/ and me") and stops for Tai Chi in the park: "I bend at the waist/ like the ladies/ and feel the dew/ on my fingers." A wordless spread depicts the group's graceful moves. The poem-like vignettes flow down vertically, framed by red interlinking lines that simulate Chinese screens. This border, alongside soft-edged pastels, gives the pages a feeling as intimate as this closely-knit family. Readers of any ethnic background will enjoy learning about China through Xiao Mei's curious eyes, but for those with far-flung families, the book will have special significance. Ages 8-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-Eleven-year-old Xiao Mei is on her way to China to meet her extended family. She was initially reluctant to make the trip, wondering if she would be accepted because she is only half Chinese, but her grandmother, Nai Nai, tells stories of family members that pique her curiosity. Xiao Mei agrees to be Nai Nai's messenger, and to "Look everything./Remember." Once in Shanghai, the girl is warmly welcomed, and begins to learn about and appreciate her heritage. She makes wontons with Auntie, visits gardens where her great-grandfather's words are carved in the archways, and participates in morning Tai Chi exercises. When Xiao Mei returns home to Ohio after a week, she takes gifts, including a fan painted by an uncle that brings "a little bit of China" to America. Cheng does an admirable job of capturing this experience from the perspective of a child, and each free-verse chapter is brief but satisfying. With the exception of one spread illustrating the Tai Chi excercises, Young's illustrations delicately intertwine with the text, gently supporting each vignette. This is a superb book, capturing both the excitement and adventure of Xiao Mei's trip, as well as her realization that family ties can bridge great distances.-Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Half-Chinese Xiao Mei (May in English) is 11, going alone from Ohio to visit her extended family in Shanghai. In vivid poems, almost iridescent in their clarity of feeling, May wonders if people in China will stare at her green-flecked eyes; sees what her great-grandfather carved in stone in Suzhou Gardens; buys a live duck for lunch in the marketplace. The fear of being so far from the familiar and the ache of a loving but very different set of relatives are exquisitely delineated, no more so than in Young's beautiful illustrations. Each page is laid out with borders and centerpieces of a red Chinese grillwork pattern in perfect geometry; while soft-edged, brilliantly colored vignettes of May learning t'ai chi, riding on a moped to take laundry to dry, playing catch with a child and a red ball, illuminate every page. Some images catch at the heart-Auntie unwrapping a wonton to tuck the last speck of pork in before cooking, or May back in Ohio missing the shouting farmers outside her window in Shanghai. Wonderfully evocative. (Fiction/poetry. 8-14)