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A novel to treasure with every middle-grade reader you know (NYTBR), this first Anna Wang story shows how a young Asian-American girl navigates her way around friendship and learn to accept that our diversity is what makes us unique. In Chinese, peng you means friend. But in any language, all Anna knows for certain is that friendship is complicated.
When Anna needs company, she turns to her books. Whether traveling through A Wrinkle in Time, or peering over My Side of the Mountain, books provide what real life cannot—constant companionship and insight into her changing world.
Books, however, can’t tell Anna how to find a true friend. She’ll have to discover that on her own. In the tradition of classics like Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books and Eleanor Estes’ One Hundred Dresses, this novel subtly explores what it takes to make friends and what it means to be one.
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About the Author
Abigail Halpin is an illustrator and a graphic designer. Away from the drawing table, she knits, reads comic books, and plays the fiddle. She lives in New England. www.theodesign.com
Read an Excerpt
One School Ray, the crossing guard, is waiting at the curb in his orange vest that catches the sunrise. "How’s my girl?" he asks. I show him the lunch bag that I sewed yesterday. "Well if that’s not the prettiest lunch bag I’ve ever seen." He tests the drawstrings. "It’s fabric left over from my bedspread," I tell him. "So your lunch matches your bed." Ray admires my handiwork. Laura and Allison join us at the curb. "How many more minutes until the bell, Ray?" Allison asks. Ray glances at his wristwatch. "You got about three minutes today, girls." Then he walks into the intersection and holds out his arms so we can cross. I’d rather stay with Ray than go onto the fourth grade playground where Laura and Allison stand so close that there’s no space left for me. "Hey, what’s that?" Laura asks, noticing my bag. "A lunch bag," I say. "Homemade?" Allison asks. I nod. She looks at Laura. Their eyes meet. We start out with the word of the week. Ms. Simmons writes it on the board. Perseverance. Laura’s hand shoots up before Ms. Simmons has even finished the last letter. She knows more words than the rest of us. "It’s when you don’t give up," she says. Ms. Simmons nods. "Can someone give us an example of perseverance?" Lucy raises her hand. "Like when I learned to play basketball," she says. Ms. Simmons tells us to write a paragraph about a time that we were perseverant. Laura starts right away. I don’t know how she thinks of ideas so fast. I stare at the blank paper. Then I see my lunch bag that’s on top of my books and that gives me an idea. On the top of my paper I write my name, Anna Wang, and the title, Making a Lunch Bag. I skip a line and then write: Making a lunch bag is not as easy as it looks. First I cut the rectangles too small because I forgot about the seam. Then I cut them again and made them bigger but I sewed the casing backwards. Allison glances at my paper. She leans over and says, "Perseverance has to be something that takes a really long time." She shows me her title: Learning to Ride a Two-Wheeler. The blood rushes to my cheeks. Writing about making a lunch bag is stupid but it’s too late to start over. I don’t think Ms. Simmons will understand what I’m talking about, especially if she doesn’t know how to sew. I glance at the clock. Time is going by and I have only written a few sentences. I pick up my pen and write, When I finally thought that my lunch bag was done, I couldn’t figure out how to get the drawstring threw the casing. When I reread my sentence, I notice that I wrote "threw" wrong because it should be "through," but when I erase it, my paper is a mess. Ms. Simmons asks if anyone wants to read their paragraph out loud. Allison raises her hand. "When I was in first grade, I got a two-wheeler for my birthday, but I couldn’t ride it. Then my dad put on the training wheels and I could sort of ride but not very well." She reads in a monotone and I stop listening. I’m thinking about how I had to take all the casing stitches out of my bag and sew it down the other way. The second time, I made it too narrow for the drawstring. When Allison is done, four other people say they wrote about learning to ride a bike. I bet nobody wrote about sewing a lunch bag. The whole time that Allison is reading, Laura is still working on her paragraph. She has covered the page and now she’s writing on the back. She must have been very perseverant about something to write so much. Ms. Simmons collects our papers, and then it’s time for reading. We can read whatever books we want. Laura and Allison take two different Princess Diary books off the shelf but I brought my own library book called My Side of the Mountain. Soon I am with Sam, hollowing out a stump to make my own little house. Sam likes to be by himself in the forest. He has a pet falcon named Frightful for company and to help him hunt for food. When the bell rings, I’m startled because Sam is in the middle of catching a deer. He’s going to cure the meat so he’ll have food in winter and he’ll use the fur for clothing. I feel sorry for the animal, but at least he’s not wasting any part of it. I want to keep on reading but I have to close my book because Ms. Simmons says reading and walking at once will get you into trouble. She knows because she did it and ended up with a big knot on her forehead. We head outside for recess before lunch. I stand by the fence. Laura and Allison and Lucy come my way. "My mom can type so fast you can’t even see her fingers," Laura says. She moves her fingers like she’s at a keyboard. "Is she a secretary?" Allison asks. Laura shakes her head, making her blond hair fly all over. "Executive assistant." "My mom’s a high school principal," Lucy says. "You should see the kids when my mom walks by." She nods down at us like she is the principal and we are the students. "It’s all about respect." I hunch my shoulders. "Have you ever heard of Hammond High?" Lucy asks. "That’s her school." "Hey, Anna, what about your mom?" Allison asks. I can’t just say that my mom vacuums and mops every Saturday or that she learned English almost perfectly because she is very perseverant and now she is going to college so someday she can be a nurse. "She works in one of those high-rises," I say. "With a view of the river." "In an office?" Lucy asks. "Sort of." Allison looks over my head at Lucy. Then she and Lucy and Laura link arms and walk toward the tetherball. My brother, Ken, and the other third-graders are in the grassy area, chasing each other up and down the hill. Last year Laura and I were there too, and when we got sweaty, we sat in the shade of the school building and played a Chinese game with little rocks that Mom taught me, kind of like jacks without the ball. But this year Laura found Allison and Lucy. I found Ray but he goes home while we’re at school. The boys are kicking a soccer ball across the field. Tai is in front, moving the ball like lightning with his feet. I like Tai and I’m a fast runner, but I don’t like playing soccer because I get mixed up about which side is my goal. Once I scored a point for the wrong team and everyone yelled at me. I sit down on the blacktop and open my book. Sam skins the deer and hangs the hide so it can dry. Later he plans to sew himself deerskin pants and a shirt. I wonder if he’ll remember that seams take up a lot of room. When I made my rectangles too small, I cut new ones out of more leftover material, but Sam doesn’t have extra deerskin. Maybe he should try a pattern out of paper first the way Mom does when she sews. But he probably doesn’t have paper to spare. "Anna." Ms. Simmons is calling. "Hurry. It’s time for lunch." There is nobody left out on the playground except me. I go to the back of the line behind the boys who are always messing around. * * * On the way home from school, Ray has five acorns for me. I put them in my empty lunch bag. "That bag comes in handy," he says. "I wish I had one." "They’re not hard to make." "I’m not so sure about that." He shakes his head. "Now you have a nice afternoon, hear?" Laura and Allison are way ahead of me. Ken is talking and laughing with his friends. I take out my book and read-walk all the way home.
What People are Saying About This
"A gentle, affectionate take on familiar middle-grade issues and the joys of reading."Kirkus
"Tender . . . Cheng credibly portrays Anna's budding maturity."Publishers Weekly
"Cheng's telling is as straightforward yet sympathetic as her self-contained main character; and Halpin's often lighthearted pencil-and-wash sketches both decorate and enrich this perceptive novel."Horn Book
"Readers are led to discover the extraordinary within the ordinary, and to witness how kindness can draw trust and create confidence in a hesitant child."School Library Journal "This is a remarkably pithy and nuanced portrait of a fourth-grader and her world, and the streamlined simplicity of Cheng's writing and the brief page count make it accessible."Bulletin "The Year of the Book was a pleasure to read and more. This is a novel to treasure and share with every middle-grade reader you know."New York Times Book Review