Written & Illustrated by Allen Say
Multicultural Children’s Picture Book: K-3
Stars: 4 (out of 5)
Summary: This is the story of an adopted child, Allison, who looks nothing like her parents. Allison struggles with the fact that her mother and father aren’t her real parents. In the end, she finds a stray cat that does not have any parents, and decides to take him in, recognizing that this is just what her parents did for her.
This book touches on several important components for children to explore in literature. First of all, this story talks about adoption. Included in this is how a young adopted girl feels, as she looks very different from her parents. When she watches the other kids in her preschool class get picked up by their parents, she recognizes that the children all look like their parents. In her case, she does not, and she struggles with the anger she feels because of this. What I particularly like about this story is that the reader is able to really connect with Allison and feel her pain and anger as she explores her adoption. For adopted children, Allison would be a great character to connect with. Regardless of her anger and sadness, in the end, Allison is able to work through these feelings and finally recognizes that her parents are her parents, even if they did not give birth to her.
Another aspect of this story is that Allison is a young Japanese girl. She has her doll, Mei Mei, who is a Japanese doll herself and is the only person that Allison can find who looks like her. She struggles with her appearance and looking different from her parents. I think part of her difficulty is that she does not have a sense of her Japanese culture. As she was raised by Caucasian parents in the United States, Allison is not familiar with her Japanese roots. All that she has to remind her of Japan and the Japanese culture is her doll, Mei Mei, and a kimono that her grandmother sends her from Japan. I think that Allison would feel more secure in her own person if she had the opportunity to explore and experience some of her native culture. This being said, it also begs the question of whether or not her Japanese roots are part of her culture, considering that she has grown up in the United States. This all depends on how we define culture and what we consider to be the important aspects of culture.
I think this would be a fun book to read to students, for the illustrations are very realistic and Allison is a character that is easily relatable. The book is focused on the outward appearance that makes Allison different from her parents. It would be a nice way to begin a lesson or discussion of how outward appearance is not as important as what is on the inside. We all might look different, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, or even friends. It is also a book that explores how family is deeper than what is on the outside. Just because we might not be living with our biological parents, or maybe we have an adopted sibling, or a cousin living at our house, doesn’t mean that we are not a family. In this sense, my class could also explore what it means to be a family.