Shanghai Messenger

Andrea Cheng, Author, Ed Young, Illustrator , illus. by Ed Young. Lee & Low $17.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-58430-238-4

Cheng's (Marika ) vivid writing and Young's (Beyond the Great Mountain , reviewed above) resonant illustrations mesh perfectly in this story about the close bonds of family. Xiao Mei,

an 11-year-old Chinese-American girl, travels from Ohio to Shanghai to visit her Chinese relatives. The novel unspools in humorous, often poignant free-verse poems. The one called "Shanghai Messenger" describes the lone traveler's anxiety on the plane, until she discovers a note in her pocket, written by Nai Nai, her grandmother: "You are my messenger./ Look everything./ Remember." After Xiao Mei arrives in China, she is swept into the arms of her extended family. She makes wontons with her Auntie ("Pork, green onions,/ each wrapper gets a bit,/ then fold the thin dough/ and pinch tight," with spot illustrations that demonstrate the steps), visits Suzhou Gardens ("Great Grandfather walked here/ and Nai Nai/ and Auntie/ and my cousins/ and me") and stops for Tai Chi in the park: "I bend at the waist/ like the ladies/ and feel the dew/ on my fingers." A wordless spread depicts the group's graceful moves. The poem-like vignettes flow down vertically, framed by red interlinking lines that simulate Chinese screens. This border, alongside soft-edged pastels, gives the pages a feeling as intimate as this closely-knit family. Readers of any ethnic background will enjoy learning about China through Xiao Mei's curious eyes, but for those with far-flung families, the book will have special significance. Ages 8-up. (Sept.)

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