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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Last week, I asked "Why would so much depend upon a red wheelbarrow?" and this week, I found a boy-protagonist echoing me.
"What do you mean --
Why does so much depend
a blue car?
You didn't say before
that I had to tell why.
The wheelbarrow guy
didn't tell why."
Meet Jack, who tells his story through free-spirited verses he writes (reluctantly at first) based on the classics his teacher, Miss Stretchberry, shares in class. Like me, Jack doesn't 'get' poetry at first but gradually learns to enjoy the pictures formed in his head.
What kind of protagonist is Jack?
He doesn't mince his words about how he thinks boys don't write poetry, and about the line spacing his teacher ought to use.
He is often unsure of himself and asks to remain anonymous whenever Miss Stretchberry requests to post his writings on the class board.
He is a little sad though he doesn't tell us that, or why. Readers would find out, of course, towards the end. Still, he never betrays a sliver of self-pity.
This is a great story to be shared in class, for children reading poetry and for those who love dogs. Yeah, Jack's good ol' yellow dog.
Jack is very fortunate to have a caring and encouraging teacher like Miss Stretchberry, who bakes delicious brownies for the class. (What luck!) Have you ever had such a Miss Stretchberry in your school-life?
I know not everyone enjoys novels written in verse. I'm a huge fan and have come across several outstanding middle-grade stories written in this fashion, with down-to-earth and honest narrative voices, quietly bright tones, and refreshing line-break choices. Perhaps it has to do with my difficulty in reading long prose when I was 9-12. This sort of writing would have helped me tremendously back then, so I'm glad it is now an option for young readers.
Love That Dog is followed by Hate That Cat. If you've enjoyed Jack in this one, remember to pick up the latter, too.
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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.