Peijing Guo has a perfectly happy life in China. She is a good student who is popular and well liked at school. She loves living with her extended family. Peijing is care-taker by nature and believes honoring her parents is her duty. She loves to draw. Peijing’s five year old sister, Biju, is a wonderful storyteller. The sisters create a secret “Little World” of handmade paper cutout animals designed from Biju’s imagination and interwoven with bits of Chinese mythology. The sisters spend hours together playing in their imaginary world. When Ba Ba gets a new job, Peijing, Beiju, Ma Ma, and their grandmother Ah Ma immigrate to Australia, where the family quickly begins to fall apart. Newly settled in a gorgeous and large new home, the family begins to change. Ah Ma, who spent her days in China with friends playing games and exercising in the park, now only sits in front of the television. Ma Ma, who was once social and stylish, dresses in sweatpants, and refuses to leave the house or to learn to speak English. The sisters struggle to improve their language skills and do well in a school where everything is completely different from anything they ever experienced in China. Only Ba Ba seems to be happy in Australia. Ba Ba slowly begins to relax and participate in household chores. He seems determined to develop a relationship with his two young daughters. Peijing is confused and miserable until she befriends an outcast classmate named Joanna. Scruffy and tough, Joanna is often hungry, exhausted, and bruised. Peijing, always caring for others before herself, tries to help Joanna. Peijing brings Joanna food, encourages her artistic abilities, and defends her friend from classroom bullies. Joanna helps Peijing understand life in Australia. The two become the best of friends, each bolstering the other’s confidence. When a caring teacher intervenes to help get Joanna out of her abusive home, the two friends fear their friendship will be over. The characters in this middle grade novel are beautifully drawn. The Chinese mythology woven throughout the development of “Little World” provides a gorgeous backdrop to a story about understanding humanity, and the changes we encounter in life.
THOUGHTS: This is a warm and thoughtful middle grade novel that depicts an immigrant experience with great respect and care. The bond between sisters Peijing and Biju is wonderfully delightful. The inner-conflict Peijing experiences as she becomes a tween trying to assimilate into a culture with different values is both heartbreaking and empowering. Readers will cheer Peijing on as she discovers who she is meant to be and how she can fit into her changing, yet traditional, family.
Realistic Fiction Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD