The Year of the Book, written by Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Abigail Halpin, 146 pp, RL 3

THE YEAR OF THE BOOK is now in paperback!
AND the sequel, THE YEAR OF THE BABY is out!
(scroll down for more info!) 

What better way to start the new year than with The Year of the Book byAndrea Cheng and illustrated by Abigail Halpin? If I ever wrote a book, The Year of the Book is exactly the kind of book I would write. If I could write. As a reader and connoisseur of books, you may never think about how hard it is to actually write a book because you are too busy enjoying them. That was me. With my new job, I get to read a lot of books in the manuscript form, in varying stages of completion, from people with contracts and agents and people without and my respect for the job that writers do has deepened profoundly. I have always been in awe of craftsmen who work with wood because of the precision, math and skill that is required to make something. I now feel that way about authors who write great books. Even mediocre books. Writing is hard! And I know from personal experience. I have to confess to having one of those, "How hard can it be?" moments a few months ago and I couldn't even write a full page, despite the great outline I made. So, I want to start off 2013 with a big salute to those of you who write! I respect the hard work that you do and, as someone who had/has a relationship with books similar to that of Anna Wang, the main character in The Year of the Book, I am eternally grateful to writers for creating friends for me, teaching me empathy and expanding my intellect, as a child and as an adult.

The Year of the Book is a "quiet book," an industry term I learned recently. Nothing catastrophic happens, nobody dies an there are no big "Aha!" moments with laughs and hugs at the end. Nevertheless, The Year of the Book is a book that will impact readers and linger in their memories long after the wonderfully illustrated covers are closed. Anna Wang is in fourth grade. Her best friend, Laura has started hanging around with Allison and Lucy, who are not very nice to Anna or Laura, for that matter. But Anna has her books to keep her company and she reads every chance she gets. Anna does not read to fill the absence, but because she genuinely loves to read. A challenge Anna faces in The Year of the Book is knowing when to put her book aside and pay attention to her friends. And, while Allison and Lucy are mean girls, navigating their social circle - even staying out of it -takes some work.
As Veronica Chambers eloquently says in her review of The Year of the Book for the New York Times,

While Anna draws lessons from reading, she also hides in her books to avoid the messy work of friendship. Ultimately, it is Anna’s mother who teaches her what it means to be the sort of person you read about in novels. Mrs Wang may struggle with the language, but she has no trouble translating the gift of nurturing friendship and building community.

Cheng layers Anna's story with the embarrassment that she feels when her classmates learn that her mother rides the bus to clean people's apartments with the fact that Anna usually accompanies her and enjoys this time, especially the elderly Mr Shepherd who takes an interest in Anna's creative side, giving her paints and fabric that belonged to his wife. There is also Mr Simmons, the crossing guard, that Anna looks forward to seeing and chatting with everyday. Anna shows him the cloth drawstring bag she sews herself (easy four-step directions are on the back cover of The Year of the Book) and makes one for him later on in the story. There is also the Chinese school Anna starts attending on the weekends and the writing assignments Mrs Robinson gives the fourth grade class. Finally, there is Laura and the disintegration of her family that has her vacillating between Allison and Anna, leaving Anna cautious about sharing her time (and putting down her book) for Laura. But, in the often quiet way that real life often unfolds, Anna makes it through her Year of the Book.
Abigail Halpin's illustrations in The Year of the Book are perfect, and this is my absolute favorite! Anna's class goes to Mr Schmizt's room for science and, in the back of the classroom is a bathtub filled with pillows and a bookcase within reach. Anna makes sure to get her work done early so she can have a few minutes in the reading tub and gets so engrossed in From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler by EL Konigsberg book that she doesn't hear the rest of the class as they prepare to leave. Which leads me to another thing I love about The Year of the Book. Cheng mentions, by name, every single book that Anna reads and enjoys over the course of her Year of Books and Halpin does recognizable illustrations of the jackets of these books on cover of The Year of the Book, and they make up a stellar reading list!

Source: Review Copy

 In The Year of the Baby, illustrated by Patrice Barton, Anna is now in fifth grade and is has been three months since her family brought Kaylee, their adopted baby, home from China. The doctor is worried that Kaylee is failing to thrive and Anna, Camille and Laura decide to turn getting Kaylee to eat into a science fair project using American and Chinese nursery rhymes. As with The Year of the Book, Anna is still an avid reader and there are frequent references to familiar children's books as well as Chinese words and phrases and a pronunciation guide.

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