In what promises to be a reading year, 10-year-old Anna Wang finds real-life friends as well.
Fourth grade is not turning out well for Anna. Her friend Laura is now part of a threesome that excludes her; she’s become uncomfortable about her mother’s cleaning job and her family’s different traditions; and she struggles in Chinese school. Luckily her teachers encourage their students’ independent reading, and, even better, Anna is the kind of reader who can lose herself in a story. Anna’s own story, conveyed in a first-person, present-tense voice, is one of developing empathy. Early on, her mother says, “It’s time you must think about other people.” Over the year she has significant interactions with her crossing-guard friend Ray; her mother’s elderly employer, Mr. Shepherd; and her new friend Camille, and she also achieves a growing understanding of Laura’s family problems. As a result, Anna learns to think about the people around her just as she cares about fictional characters. Good readers will enjoy the frequent references to well-known children’s literature titles and may even be prompted to seek new ones out. Halpin’s grayscale illustrations and occasional Chinese characters (introduced in a glossary at the beginning) add interest, and instructions for sewing a lunch bag are included at the end.
A gentle, affectionate take on familiar middle-grade issues and the joys of reading. (Fiction. 7-10)