In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson
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|Author||Bette Bao Lord|
|Publisher||Harper & Row|
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson is a children's novel by Bette Bao Lord and illustrator Marc Simont about a young girl named Shirley Temple Wong who leaves a secure life within her clan in China following World War II. She begins a new life in America because her father has taken a job as an engineer in the United States. Many Chinese customs and traditions are discussed, along with their importance to Wong and her family. Shirley's family does not give up their cultural traditions, but they do adopt many American customs in order to adapt to the American way of life.
The reader enjoys many humorous situations as Shirley fails to understand her new culture and the nuances of the English language. It takes her a while to learn her new language, presenting her with many difficult, and sometimes hilarious, outcomes. At first, Shirley desperately wants to fit in with her new classmates by playing stickball or by leaving the school for lunch. Because she is of small stature and doesn't have good ball-handling skills, Shirley has trouble fitting in with her classmates' activities. Her efforts are admirable, but her classmates are not encouraged to include her on their teams. Her habit of bowing to them and her lack of fluent English makes it hard to the children to accept her. Her parents want her to fit in, but they are not adept at helping her. Noticing her quietness and sadness, her father buys her a pair of roller skates. Not knowing how to skate, Shirley becomes bruised and bloodied from her efforts to learn. It isn't until a fellow fifth grader befriends her that she learns how to roller skate and how to play stickball. This friendship helps her enjoy life in a new land, and to feel more a part of this new culture.
She never loses her connection to the culture of her birth, as she still misses the closeness of her clan and the interaction with her many cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Bette Bao Lord manages to tie together Shirley's love of her past life in China and her present life in the United States. She is able to "fit in" without losing her ties to the past.
This novel is humorous in its treatment of Shirley's adjustment to her new culture. Its high point is Shirley's meeting with her American hero, the black baseball player Jackie Robinson. Many parallels are drawn between them and their "fitting in," from their being pigeon-toed runners, to their being different from the status quo. Her rabid interest in that most American of sports, baseball, defines her acceptance of her new culture as well as its acceptance of her. This book shows the power of sports and how it can create a friendship.
This is a book which would be appealing to children in the third to sixth grade levels because they can identify with Shirley, in all her innocence. Lord has created a sympathetic character without making us pity her. This is a culturally comparative book because there are parallels drawn between both Shirley's life in China and in the United States, but there is no evaluation made as to which is better. There is no goal for Shirley to give up her Chinese culture in order to adapt to the American culture. There seems to be room for both in her life. This novel presents an in-depth look at family relationships, values, religious traditions, child-rearing beliefs, work ethics, and the nature of friendship within Shirley's culture of origin, as well as her adopted culture. Shirley's characterization in the story is strong, and the plot moves quickly and evokes interest. The settings, both in China and in the United States, provide historical knowledge about both countries in the post-war era. Because of this, it would be considered historical fiction. Many lessons of tolerance could be taught in the classroom by using such an entertaining and historically accurate novel.
In 1947, the Year of the Boar, Sixth Cousin, also known as Bandit, leaves China with her parents for a new beginning in America. Proud of the American name that she chose herself, Shirley Temple Wong is optimistic that her new home will be the land of many opportunities. But it's harder than she expected. Though her classmates in Brooklyn come from a variety of backgrounds, Shirley is the only one who doesn't speak English, and she worries that she will never have a friend. Then she gets in a fight with Mabel, the tallest, scariest girl in the fifth grade. Though Shirley winds up with two black eyes, she is faithful to the code of childhood and doesn't tell anyone what happened. Her silence gains her the respect and friendship of Mabel, who gives her the gift that truly changes her life: baseball. Soon Shirley is the biggest Brooklyn Dodgers fan of all, listening to the radio to hear the triumphs and heartbreaks of the team and her hero, Jackie Robinson. Meanwhile, she takes piano lessons from her landlord, Señora Rodriguez, and saves money by baby-sitting Mrs. O'Reilly's triplets. She begins to feel at home, and yet deep within herself Shirley discovers that she wants to hold on to her memories of China, and the knowledge that she is Chinese inside, as well as American. She can be both — a "double happiness." Also, when Shirley is sad, there is always someone painting.