Kara is an eleven-year-old Chinese girl who lives with an old American woman whom she calls Mama. Kara was born with a right hand that had stubs instead of fingers and so her birth parents abandoned her. Mama took her in. And there they've been, in China, ever since.
Mama doesn't go out often. When she does, she makes sure to wear long gloves and a scarf. When visitors come to their small apartment, Mama hides in a room and lets Kara speak to the guest.
Kara is the one who runs errands, buys grocery and borrows money from a teacher-neighbour, Zhang LaoShi. Life is still nice, even though they have been having rice and cabbages for a long while now. Until one day.
Kara learns why Mama made the decision to hide in China with her instead of bringing her to Montana, where Daddy and Jody (Mama's grown-up American daughter) live.
It's all because of one little red book. A hu kou ben - a book that acknowledges her identity and existence. Something Kara doesn't have.
To make matters worse, Jody visits. The day she is supposed to return to America, she collapses. An ambulance arrives. Police arrive. Mama has to go to the hospital. And by now, everyone in the neighbourhood knows about this suspicious American woman with a Chinese girl.
Hiding isn't possible now.
A moving story. I am deeply attracted to Kara's story, and the way she ploughs through the difficulties a child shouldn't have. Yet it is all very close to reality. In China, the government enforces a one-child policy. Any family with more than one child will be fined. And so many parents endure the pressure of giving birth to the 'perfect child.' Children born with a physical or mental defect are usually abandoned. Kara is, honestly, one of the very lucky ones.
In this story, Kara's Mama couldn't bear leaving this beautiful girl and so took her in without the proper adoption papers. Her fate is to hide until she couldn't anymore.
What will happen to Kara? Will she be sent to the orphanage to live there forever, or will she be adopted? By another family? Or by Mama? (The government agencies really didn't like that she'd disobeyed the law.)
Has anyone else read this, or any other book on foster-parenthood/adoption?
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"The second rule says that the door to a person's heart can only be opened from within.
If there is someone who will not let you in, it's no use hammering and kicking
and lamenting and complaining. For what if the door is ajar, and you push it shut?
With some people it can never be opened again."
We never get to find out her real name.
The girl - she lives near a cove, by a brook that runs out to sea, with her wise but ailing grandmother. They live secluded from the rest of the town. The girl collects mussels and sea kale for food and gathers driftwood to keep them warm and alive.
Except ... we all know that Grandmother is dying.
After Grandmother passes away, the girl buries her and mourns all on her own.
Two crows fly over her, and it is those two crows that the girl sees again several days later. "Come along, come along," she hears them call. Alone, and terrified of being engulfed by loneliness, she wraps a few pieces of clothings with a large handkerchief, ties it to a walking stick, and wraps her grandmother's shawl around her. Then she walks out of the house, down along the shore.
The Crow-Girl, as she is called by the first seemingly kind stranger, goes on to meet new people and learns about leaving and staying. She travels on with a poor, young boy whose father is too grief-stricken to take care of him, and with a pair of mother and daughter fleeing from an abusive family. Unknowingly, a family of strangers forms and their bond grows strong enough to withstand hunger and further loss.
There is a quiet tone in the telling of The Crow-Girl's adventures that I particularly like. I understand this tone isn't every reader's cup of tea. (Too gloomy for my taste, some might say.) But if you like a story about loss and findings, told through prose clear as a bout of wind, and with an undertone that is slightly sad but which, at times, still promises hope, you might enjoy this piece.
The Crow-Girl is translated from the Danish. One of my favourite middle-grade novels, The Song of the Whales, is also a translation (from Hebrew). Both of them carry a narrative style that is, strangely, classy yet down-to-earth at the same time. I wonder if you guys know of other translated children's books (picture books, middle-grade or young adult novels) that I could check out? Feel very free to let me know ~
Just Received Word On:
~ An author interview over at Carolyn Hart's Storytime Standouts. Carolyn asked several fabulous questions and I had a great time hanging out over at her place!
~ A Sea Creatures Ebook Giveaway at Brooke Blogs. The winner will receive 5 children's ebooks/apps. If you know of anyone whose kids enjoy the sea-creature theme, be sure to point them to the giveaway!
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I'm going to be the person you always saw in me.
Middle-Grade Novel Picks:
This is what you do when you are twelve, your pillar-of-support grandpa dies, and your mother still clings on to the hope of your gambler-father coming back to get you two:
This is what you do when a puppy that's on its way to the pound is thrust in your arms, when you don't have any money to feed or care for it; what you do when you lose your house and are forced to leave school and the town you've always known; what you do when your favourite teacher tells you you have great potential, and you have to leave him, too:
This is what you do:
You hang on till you break.
You try your hardest to survive. You read Grandpa's unpublished manuscript to stay strong (You take in The-Good-that's-Left-in-Your-World). You write to your favourite teacher (You let out The-Honesty-that's-Also-Left).
Twelve-year-old Sugar Mae Cole has gifts. She hangs on. She tries to survive, and she tries to stay sweet and grateful (because of what her mother used to teach her, and because of her name). She speaks to Shush, her rescue dog, and it listens. She writes and her teacher listens. The only person who doesn't seem to be listening is her mother, Reba. Nothing gets through to Reba after they leave the shelter for Chicago. Not anymore. Well, except for that stupid hope of Sugar's father returning for them ...
Can Sugar let go of Reba, like how Reba has let go of them? Can Sugar hold onto Reba and pull her back, even if where they are doesn't seem that well either?
Lessons and lessons to learn about being homeless, about being in other folks' homes, about belonging and cutting off, about repainting the doors to your new place fresh coats of colours that declare to the world who you really are.
This is the second Joan Bauer novel I've read. The first was Close to Famous, and since that was set surrounded by muffins and cupcakes, I gained weight reading it. For Almost Home, I re-affirmed my love with colours and honest verses. The quote at the beginning of this post jumped straight at me from its page. And it has become one of my absolute favourites these days.
If I were to paint my door, I'd pick a brilliant, bold sea-blue. What about you?
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Hey, I'm Claudine. Welcome!
Want to know what children's stories can inspire & lead to?
by Kate Hanney
Really enjoyed the honest voice of this narrator ~ a teenager let down by his mother and the foster care system, and almost-picked up through his involvement with a gang.