The Jade Dragon
Written by Carolyn Marsden and Virginia Shin-Mui Loh
This is the story of two second grade Chinese girls struggling to find their identity. Ginny was born in America and is being raised by Chinese parents who follow traditional customs and live out their Chinese culture. Stephanie, on the other hand, was born in China and has been adopted by white, Anglo-Saxon parents and does everything possible to avoid anything that associates her with being Chinese.
When Ginny arrives at school for the new year, she is delighted to find that this year there is another Chinese girl in her all white school. Stephanie tries to avoid her because she does not like being “different.” Ginny tries her best to make friends and finally succeeds because Stephanie’s mother would like her daughter to be exposed to her Chinese culture. When Stephanie visits Ginny, her mother is insulted because Stephanie won’t even try to eat Chinese food. Stephanie wants to play with blonde haired dolls and American toys. She makes fun of Ginny for wearing a traditional Chinese dress, and makes Ginny feel bad that her mother refuses to allow her to wear a party dress like that of Stephanie. As the girls get to know each other better, they exchange secrets. Ginny admits that she does not always like eating Chinese food, learning Chinese calligraphy and eating traditional Chinese foods. Stephanie admits that sometimes she wishes that she were not adopted and that she lived in China so that her parents would look like her. It is so hard to deal with the stares of people who see her walking with her American parents. The two girls trade gifts. Ginny is terrified that her mother will discover she has given her jade good luck dragon to Stephanie. At one point the girls become so close that they wear matching friendship necklaces, but that friendship is threatened when Stephanie becomes jealous of Ginny’s new talents learned in Chinese school. Will these two girls who seem to have so much in common find a common bond to develop and nurture their friendship?
This story is set in the 1980’s which does make some of the variables a bit different. I do believe the conflicts and struggles do present many similar challenges in the twenty first century, even though the times present us with more diversification in schools and communities. The story still speaks to immigrant and adopted children who are coping with similar situations. Targeted reading audience is age seven through ten. The one hundred sixty page book might present an independent reading challenge for children at the lower end of that range even though it is written fairly well and the vocabulary is generally not too difficult. Dialogue seems appropriate and flows well. There is a glossary with Chinese language expressions at the end for interested readers. This book will make a great addition to elementary classroom multicultural libraries.
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