Back to School: Orange Peel's Pocket by Rose Lewils
Nicknamed "Orange Peel" because as a baby she tried to eat the peels along with the fruit, Chan Ming knows she was born in China and adopted by her American mom. But one day at school her teacher pulls down a map of a very large country--China. And when her classmates turn to Orange Peel to tell them all about the land of her birth, she realizes that she can't answer their questions.
"I don't know, but I'll find out," she says.
Mom suggests that she interview some of the Chinese-American storekeepers nearby, and Orange Peel finds out that they are delighted to tell her bits of Chinese history, illustrated by their wares. Mr. Fan, the tailor, pulls out some shiny dark thread. "The best silk comes from China," he tells her, fine but strong, and as Orange Peel and her mother thank him for his story and turn to leave, he slips a little somethng into her pocket.
At Ma Sang's antique shop, Orange Peel is amazed at the beautiful treasures she sees, all from China, and as she leaves, Ma Sang slips something into her pocket--one of her own poems, this one about the mountain, lakes, and flowers in her homeland. At Mrs. Lo's flower shop, she is shown some of the famous flowers of China--peonies and chrysanthemums--and the proprietor slips a peony into her pocket.
Ready for a snack, Orange Peel and her mother head for Mr. Yo's Noodle Shop, for bowls of "the best noodle soup in the world" and she learns that he uses an very old family recipe to make his own noodles: "long noodles, long life," he says with a smile, and slips his soup recipe into her pocket.
For dessert, they stop off at Jasmine's Ice Cream Shop, and as Orange Peel tells Jasmine about her Show-And-Tell project at school, she is amazed to learn that ice cream was invented, not in America, but in China, and another surprise is slipped in her pocket secretly as she counts out the change to pay for their cones.
What Orange Peel finds in her pocket that night is a little bit of Chinese lore from each of the shopkeepers--silk thread, a recipe for noodle soup, a flower, a poem, and best of all, a tassel from Jasmine, "red for good luck." With something to show, something to tell, and her good luck red tassel, Orange Peel's report to her class is a success.
Rose Lewis' new Orange Peel's Pocket (Abrams, 2010) is a welcome addition to the literary offerings for Chinese American adopted children. Grace Zong's stylized illustrations in chrysanthemum colors are picturesque, and although this book contributes only tidbits of information on Chinese history and culture, it provides a warm introduction for early elementary children to the heritage of Chinese adoptees.
For more of the personal history of Rose Lewis and her daughter, pair this new one with her earlier autobiographical picture books stories, the wonderful I Love You Like Crazy Cakes, the story of her adoption of her daughter from China, and its equally loving sequel, Every Year on Your Birthday, which journals the story of each of her child's successive birthdays, from her first toy-filled celebration through her second, marked by a red-white-and-blue cake to celebrate her citizenship, to the gift of her first puppy, and finally her "graduation" on her school-aged fifth birthday. Another story of Chinese American adoption is award-winner Grace Lin's moving The Red Thread: An Adoption Fairy Tale, which begins with the beautiful Chinese proverb which says, "an invisible, unbreakable red thread connects all who are destined to be together."