CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 24. . . .February 21, 2014
When the story opens, Ting Ting’s father is in Canada studying engineering. Ting and her mother, a physician, continue with their daily lives of school, work and family. Ting’s mother decides to visit Ting’s father in Canada for a month. It is during this time the riots in Tiananmen Square take place, stranding Ting’s parents in Canada. Ting is lovingly cared for by her maternal aunts (yima), but, naturally, she longs to be reunited with her parents. Ting’s extended family is pleased at how quickly the Chinese government grants Ting the right to travel to Canada. After a visit to her paternal grandfather, and a glorious day with her yima, eight-year-old Ting is put on the plane for the long flight to Vancouver. Her arrival in Canada fills her with contrasting emotions: fear, anxiety, exhaustion and, of course, joy when she is reunited with her parents.
The rest of the story tells of Ting’s challenge to understand her new culture and to find her place within the new country. Her parents, who have very little money, rely only on the refugee stipend from the Canadian government, and they are unable to work in their disciplines in Canada. Their apartment is small and cramped, and there is no money for extras (scissors and visits to the aquarium). Ting quickly learns English, makes friends and, in spite of making some cultural gaffs, starts to find a little corner of Canada to call her own.
The family’s biggest break comes when Mr. Dobrowski, the owner of the donut shop below their apartment, asks Ting’s family for Christmas dinner. The Dabrowski’s are Polish immigrants and understand the challenges facing Ting’s family. After Christmas dinner, the Dabrowski’s give each member of Ting’s family a present: Ting’s mother receives a handmade apron; Ting a backpack, with a matching lunch kit; and Ting’s father receives a donut. The donut, one might anticipate, symbolizes a job offer.
From the adult perspective, the plot is not surprising or extraordinary in any way, but the sincerity, genuine emotions and authenticity of the characters, the introduction of traumatic historical events and the vivid description of the settings through the eyes of Ting make this a first-rate fiction title for young readers.
Sharing this book with my 12-year-old led to many discussions surrounding the events of Tiananmen Square, communism, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and. of course, the trauma of arriving in a new land where everything is unfamiliar.
I think Hammond ‘s work is particularly strong in the descriptions of Ting’s outings. In China, the details included foods (e.g. meat skewers, hawthorne berry bars – ice treats) and sites (thousand Buddha Mountain and natural water springs). These contrast nicely with Ting’s Vancouver experiences of totem poles, laundry mats, chocolate milk, and donuts.
Ting Ting will be a great addition to all school, public and personal libraries.
Ruth McMahon, a professional librarian who has two daughters, works in a Middle School library in AB.
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