Shanghai Messenger

By Publishers Weekly

Cheng’s (Marika) vivid writing and Young’s (Beyond the Great Mountain) resonant illustrations mesh perfectly in this story about the close bonds of family. Xiao Mei, an 11-year-old Chinese-American girl, travels from Ohio to Shanghai to visit her Chinese relatives. The novel unspools in humorous, often poignant free-verse poems. The one called “Shanghai Messenger” describes the lone traveler’s anxiety on the plane, until she discovers a note in her pocket, written by Nai Nai, her grandmother: “You are my messenger./Look everything./Remember.” After Xiao Mei arrives in China, she is swept into the arms of her extended family. She makes wontons with her auntie (“Pork, green onions,/each wrapper gets a bit,/then fold the thin dough/and pinch tight,” with spot illustrations that demonstrate the steps), visits the Suzhou Gardens (“Great Grandfather walked here/and Nai Nai/and Auntie/and my cousins/and me”) and stops for Tai Chi in the park: “I bend at the waist/like the ladies/and feel the dew/on my fingers.” A wordless spread depicts the group’s graceful moves. The poem-like vignettes flow down vertically, framed by red interlinking lines that stimulate Chinese screens. This border, alongside soft-edged pastels, gives the pages a feeling as intimate as this closely-knit family. Readers of any ethnic background will enjoy learning about China through Xiao Mei’s curious eyes, but for those with far-flung families, the book will have special significance,