cover image Happy Birthday Mr. Kang

Happy Birthday Mr. Kang

Susan L. Roth. National Geographic Society, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-7922-7723-1

Roth's sumptuous, sophisticated collages fittingly chronicle this affecting tale of a Chinese-American retiree and his grandson. On his 70th birthday, Mr. Kang makes three wishes. ""I want to read The New York Times every day. I want to paint poems every day. And I want a bird, a hua mei, of my own."" The hua mei, a Chinese bird, connects Mr. Kang with his grandfather, who also owned such a bird, and becomes a metaphor through which Roth explores the idea of freedom and choice. On Sundays, Mr. Kang gathers with his friends and their birds at Sara Delano Roosevelt Park in New York City, and when he brings his grandson, Sam, along one day, Sam wonders aloud if the hua mei is happy in his cage. This prompts Mr. Kang to set his beloved bird free. But when grandfather and grandson return home, the bird is waiting for them. In prose as spare as Mr. Kang's poetry, Roth delicately explores generational and cultural issues (""We save, in old, grown heads,/ a full-blown rose in summer,/ the sound of bamboo leaves when/ the wind is gentle,/ the taste of mooncakes""). Arresting artwork conveys cityscapes and interiors formed from items as varied as photographs, silk brocade fabric and newspaper clippings: Roth overlays a festive birthday celebration atop a Chinese menu with wisps of pink tissue paper; Mr. Kang's hua mei sports elegant cut-paper ""feathers."" This poignant volume honors the value of one's native heritage while paying homage to America's great diversity. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)