This was originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on May 30, 2009.
Each page in Shanghai Messenger (Lee & Low Books, 2005) has red Chinese screens framing poetry by Andrea Cheng and art by Ed Young. This beautiful picture book for children in the third to sixth grades tells the story of Chinese American Xiao Mei's first trip to China to visit her relatives.
I see my face
in the rice water,
will people stare
at my eyes
with green flecks
Will they ask
why didn't Grandmother
teach me Chinese?
Cheng's stirring free verse poems evoke Xiao Mei's fear about traveling to China all by herself, and her doubts from being surrounded by a language, people, and lifestyle that are strange to her. We also see Xiao Mei's love for her life in Shanghai really grow. When she returns to Ohio, Xiao Mei misses all of her relatives and longs for her family in America and her family in China to be together.
Young's spot illustrations in pastel, ink, dye, charcoal, and Conte crayon are impressionistic. They are sublime, effectively evoking all of Xiao Mei's conflicting feelings. How does he do that?
I believe that in Shanghai Messenger, Cheng and Young truly capture the beautiful yet complicated bond a young Asian American has with her Asian motherland.
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