This blog is a continuation of a class assignment for the TWU course 5603, Literature for Children and Young Adults. Subsequent entries are for TWU course 5653, Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults. The new entries are for TWU course 5663, Poetry for Children and Young Adults.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Year of the Dog

The Year of the Dog
A Novel by Grace Lin

cover image retrieved on 11/15/12 from

Lin, Grace. The Year of the Dog: A Novel. New York: Little, Brown, 2006. ISBN 0316001805

Pacy is a Taiwanese American girl who goes by the English name Grace at school. Grace becomes fast friends with a new girl at school, another Taiwanese American, Melody, whose family has recently moved into the neighborhood. This novel chronicles the school year, intertwined with tales Grace’s family shares with her about their own lives growing up in Taiwan. The title of the novel comes from the Chinese New Year of the Year of the Dog, which signifies good luck for Grace and Melody. As the girls learn and grow, will they find the good fortune they desire? The Year of the Dog provides readers anecdotal stories to find the answer to that question.

Critical Analysis
Grace Lin draws from her own experiences to craft this story into a relatable tale of growing up, finding yourself, and navigating through the unknowns in life. The main character, Grace, contemplates who she is and how she fits into the world throughout this novel. Her family has Taiwanese heritage, which they keep alive in the home and their associations with friends and family. They strongly encourage Grace to fit into school life, trying all the activities and making friends with Americans as well as the new Taiwanese girl at school. Melody and Grace complement one another nicely, as friends should. They share their Taiwanese heritage, and figure out how it meshes with life in America.

Grace’s family is close-knit, which is a blessing for Grace. She is comfortable seeking guidance from her family, who often share stories from their childhood to illustrate a point for her. This provides wonderful insight into daily life in Taiwan for the reader. Grace learns well from the stories, applying them to her life. She occasionally struggles to understand how the family story has relevance to her, but her older sister Lissy or best friend Melody help her make the connection.

Cultural connections are strong and positive. Taiwanese and Chinese words and customs are part of the fabric of the novel, with explanations for the reader of unfamiliar terms. Sketches by the author are peppered throughout the book, further clarifying words new to the reader. At one point in the story, Grace wants to try out for the class musical, The Wizard of Oz. She has her heart set on being Dorothy, until one student asks, “Who ever heard of a Chinese Dorothy?” Grace loses her confidence, never having considered that her physical differences would invalidate her from being that part. She decides to not try out for the part. She is cast as a munchkin, but continues to question if a Chinese munchkin should even be in the play. She is so discouraged she considers quitting, until she is asked to assume a special role as a munchkin. She does well, and realizes that her ethnicity wasn’t important to her ability to perform the part.

Grace’s family’s desire to be sure their children know something of their heritage is apparent as they structure times to observe important holidays and traditions, join their extended family for important events to be celebrated according to tradition, and arrange to spend time at a Taiwanese cultural gathering. They even make a trip to an ethnic grocery store to stock up on delicacies that they can’t find anywhere else.  But her parents also make sure their kids know that they are Americans, and that is an important part of their identity. This novel is a treat for Taiwanese or Chinese kids who want to read about characters familiar to them, or to those from other cultures who desire a taste of another culture that is simple and pleasant.

Ilene Cooper (Booklist, Jan. 1, 2006 (Vol. 102, No. 9))
Lin, who is known for her picture books, dots the text with charming ink drawings, some priceless, such as one picturing Grace dressed as a munchkin. Most of the chapters are bolstered by anecdotes from Grace's parents, which connect Grace (and the reader) to her Taiwanese heritage.        Starred Review

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2005 (Vol. 73, No. 24))
Being Taiwanese-American is confusing, and being the only Asian kid in your elementary school-except for your older sister-is not always comfortable. Pacy has high hopes for the Year of the Dog, which, she learns, is a year for finding friends and finding yourself.  This comfortable first-person story will be a treat for Asian-American girls looking to see themselves in their reading, but also for any reader who enjoys stories of friendship and family life.

Avis Masuda (WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures, April 2010 (Vol. 2, No. 3))
Year of the Dog is Grace Lin’s memoir of growing up as a Chinese American whose parents wanted her to fit in with other American youth. To her family, she is known as Pacy, but to her American friends, Grace. Lin tells the story of her struggle to find her identity in a bicultural world. What name should she go by? What should she tell her friends? Pacy/Grace thinks about whether she is Chinese, Taiwanese or American. Her mother tells her to say she is American. The reader learns of the richness behind Pacy’s heritage as Lin skillfully weaves a tapestry of her identity through her mother’s stories of growing up in Taiwan and then immigrating to America. 

Best Book Lists/ Awards
   2006 Fall Publisher's Pick
• Starred Booklist Review
• 2006 ALA Children's Notable
• 2006 Asian Pacific American Librarian Association Honor
• 2006 National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) GOLD Winner
• 2007-2008 Texas Bluebonnet Award Masterlist
• 2007 Nene Awards Recommended List (Hawaii's Book Award Chosen by Children Grades 4-6)
• 2007 Cochecho Readers' Award List (sponsored by the Children's Librarians of Dover, New Hampshire)
• NYPL 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2006
• Kirkus Best Early Chapter Books 2006
•2006 Booklist Editors' Choice for Middle Readers
•Cooperative Children's Book Center Choice 2007
•Boston Authors Club Recommended Book
•2007-2008 Great Lakes Great Books Award nominee
•2007-2008 North Carolina Children's Book Award nominee
•2007-2008 West Virginia Children's Book Award nominee
•2009 Beverly Cleary Children's Choice Award (OR) nominee
•2009 Pacific Northwest Young Readers Choice Award (WA, OR, ID)nominee

·      Students and teachers can explore Grace Lin’s website at , which includes a variety of activities for teachers and students.
·      Pair this novel with poetry by Janet Wong. Hear the author read her poems and short stories at Students will select a poem and create a compare/contrast T chart connecting the selected poem and The Year of the Dog.

Social Studies:
·      Students will learn more about the Chinese Zodiac by exploring and discussing ; and Students will create a six page booklet, with one symbol or tradition highlighted on each page in summary and with an illustration. Books will shared with the class and kept in the classroom library.
·      Students will create a map of Asian countries, identifying China and Taiwan with an asterisk, since they are important locations in this story. Students will then write five questions about the countries on the map, and exchange questions with another student to answer. Ex: Name an Asian country that is an island or island group. Ex: What Asian country is East of Thailand?

·      Grace writes an award-winning book about something very common in her life- vegetables. Students will choose an everyday item from their life to create a book about. The book should be at least ten pages, with full color illustrations and a well-developed plot.
·      Grace enjoys many artistic activities. Students will learn about origami at or . Students will create an original origami creation, then write a poem that describes or characterizes their creation. Origami and poems will be displayed in classroom art center.

Other Books by Grace Lin
·      The Ugly Vegetables
·      Dim Sum for Everyone!
·      Kite Flying
·      Okie-dokie, Artichokie!
·      Olvina Flies
·      Robert’s Snow
·      Jingle Bells
·      Fortune Cookie Fortunes
·      Deck the Halls
·      The Twelve Days of Christmas
·      Merry Christmas! Let’s All Sing!
·      The Year of the Dog
·      Our Seasons
·      Olvina Swims
·      The Red Thread: An Adoption Fairy Tale
·      The Year of the Rat
·      Bringing in the New Year
·      Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
·      Dumpling Days

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