Shanghai Messenger

By Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

‘You are my messenger. Look everything. Remember,’” instructs Xiao Mei’s grandmother as the young girl prepares to fly to China for the summer. Cheng’s sequence of free-verse poems offers a simple yet telling record of the many small glimpses Xiao Mei gets into the country of her ancestry as she follows Nai Nai’s directive. Each poem focuses on a specific moment or experience, and the child’s viewpoint is remarkably well conveyed; rather than offering prosaic descriptions, the poems offer a balance of simple description and the expected personal response of an eleven-year-old girl who has undertaken a big journey. Cheng effectively constructs Xiao Mei’s grandmother as both Xiao Mei’s link to China and as a fully developed character in her own right, and the tender relationship between Nai Nai and her granddaughter is evident in their interactions. Young’s mixed-media illustrations (pastel, ink, dye, charcoal, and crayon) offer visual interpretations of Xiao Mei’s experiences; each small composition is set in or around the text, and the careful smudging of the chosen medium subtly evokes Xiao Mei’s increasingly blurred cultural demarcations…