Title: Mei Ling in China City
Author(s): Icy Smith
Illustrated by: Gayle Garner Roski
Publisher and Year: East West Discovery Press, 2008
Number of pages: 39
Genre: Historical Fiction.
Descriptive Annotation: Mei Ling in China City is told from the perspective of a young Chinese-American girl, Mei Ling. Mei lives in Los Angeles in the touristy China City neighborhood and her parents own a popular Chinese restaurant. Mei begins the story by writing to her friend, Yayeko who is Japanese and was forced to move into an internment camp. Mei talks about all the culture and preparations for the Moon Festival taking place in China City. Mei visits the temple and a few shops while preparing. At the end of the story Mei and her friend are selling Chinese Opera tickets and American Flags to raise money for the United China Relief Campaign when a famous actress, Anna May Wong gives them $300 for the charity. The end of the book has a short section about the different historical topics covered in the book, along with pictures taken during the time.
Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: This book has a good assortment of racial diversity, Chinese, Americans, and Japanese people are all pictured in the book. There is a lot of Chinese culture represented in the book in various forms, some Japanese and some American. I particularly like that at least two cultures are represented in each illustration in the book. Linguistically, the names in the book are all Chinese and Japanese names. The words in the book are fairly common and the text is of moderate density for a picture book. However, the informational section at the back of the book has much denser text and more difficult words, making it a higher reading level.
Interdisciplinary Connections: This book would be a great fit in a social studies class. There is a wealth of social studies topics to cover in relation to this book. This book would fit in well while studying immigration, WWII, racial inequality, world religions, and traditions. Additionally, this book would fit in nicely with an art unit because both Chinese Opera and Chinese actors are discussed in the book. Additionally, the artwork in the book could inspire many art projects such as creating paper lanterns.
Other Information: I didn’t particularly care for this book. I found it to have no discernable plot. If I were asked to identify a climax or resolution to this story I would not be able to do so. I think that the author had a lot of great things she wanted to put into this book, but it ended up feeling like little bits of Chinese culture were being thrown on each page for no reason other than to throw bits of Chinese culture on each page. If I was not familiar with both this time period and Chinese culture I think I would have found this book impossible to follow. I wish that the author had centered her story on a single idea she brought up – the internment camps, China City, tension between Chinese traditions and American traditions, feet binding, offerings in Buddhist temples, Chinese Opera, Chinese-American actors, the list is truly endless. Instead, these subjects were mentioned in a superficial way that felt confusing and superfluous. Additionally, it was confusing to me that much of the book talked about The Chinese Relief Campaign but it was never made clear why they needed relief in the book- the war was mentioned but not who they were at war with. I found this to be a very strange choice coupled with the discussion of Mei’s friendship with her Japanese friend, though the author may have made this choice to make the reader feel that this tension meant nothing to the young children’s friendship I think it landed as feeling disingenuous. Though I did not care for the text of this book, the illustrations were beautiful. I think the pictures in this book could have stood alone without the text (and may have even told a more coherent story).