Thursday, January 08, 2009

Special Girl: Uncle Peter's Amazing Chinese Wedding by Lonore Look

Everyone is happy happy. Everyone but me. I love weddings, but not this one. Uncle Peter is upstairs taking his wedding bath so he'll be as clean as Monday morning. Except this is Saturday, and he should be with me, getting dirty at the playground. After a hot-dog lunch, we should be heading to the movies. "Jumbo popcorn, please," he'd say. "With extra butter for my special girl."

It may be a "great big fat Chinese wedding," but Jenny can't help feeling sad at the loss of her favorite uncle and feeling jealous as bride Stella receives all the attention and gets to change into a series of beautiful bridal dresses.

Jenny squeezes back her tears as her family rushes through the wedding traditions-- symbolic gifts of new shoes and wallet to help Uncle Peter go far and become rich, greeting the bride in her long red dress, and throwing birdseed upon the happy couple. The groom and bride bow to faded photographs of great-grandparents as guests shower them with red packets of Hungbau, lucky money.

All of this should be very exciting, but Jenny is still filled with sad and angry thoughts, and as the family begins to seat themselves for the tea ceremony, she slips into the kitchen and prepares a little surprise for the bride. As Stella kneels to pour tea for her new family, the cups are found to be filled with--water. While Grandma hurriedly makes more Chrysanthemum tea, Jenny's mother has a little talk with her daughter.

In a quiet room I tell my mother all my sadness. Like water without tea leaves, it pours into her lap. She tells me she will be sad, too, the day that I leave her. But, she says, she will also be happy, knowing I am happy. Then gently, she kisses my head.

"I will never leave," I insist.

After the special red bean and tapioca soup and the bed-jumping ceremony celebrated by all the kids in the wedding party, the grownups toast the new couple and everyone gets down and boogies, even 103-year-old Great-Grandma LoBaak. Then, too soon for Jenny, it's time to bid the new couple farewell, and her sad feelings return.

But there is one last wedding tradition to observe. Stella gives Jenny a small box.

"You are my first and only niece," she says. "I want you to do this. I hope you know I love you."

Jenny opens the box and soon the air is filled with a thousand escaping butterflies. Jenny takes a bow and at last returns a deep bow to the wedding couple.

Yumi Heo's illustrations, done in a bright, childlike faux-naif style, help the reader see the Chinese wedding traditions through the eyes of Jenny, as she watches it all in her red party dress and stiff, beribboned braids. Lonore Look's Uncle Peter's Amazing Chinese Wedding was named an ALA Notable Book.

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