of the Center for Children's Books
|The Big Picture, a
regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth
look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive
for selections from previous months.|
Look, Lenore Uncle Peter’s Amazing Chinese Wedding; illus. by Yumi Heo.
ISBN 0-689-84458-1 $16.95 R* 5-9 yrs
Jen's Chinese-American family knows how to throw a party, as children who attended Henry's First-Moon Birthday (BCCB 3/01) well know. There our ebullient pigtailed narrator provided color commentary for the gala event, introducing listeners to a host of customs surrounding the occasion. So wouldn't you think a wedding would send her into ecstasy? Not when the groom is Peter, her favorite uncle and best buddy, and up until today it's been Jen who was “his special girl,” “the jelly on his toast,” and “the leaves in his tea.”
Once again Jen delivers the play-by-play on the day's proceedings, and even her pouty outlook cannot darken the festivities, which have a way of going on with or without her approbation. While the relatives exclaim over the dui ho (best quality) gifts from the bride's family, Jen sulks. When Uncle Peter drives the carload of cousins to the bride's house, Jen sulks. When the groom and his entourage “pay” for the bride with all sorts of silliness from bus tokens and a rubber-fish keychain to singing and tree-climbing, Jen sulks. And when beautiful bride Stella appears, “dressed from head to toe in red red red to bring good luck,” Jen rebels and tries to pull Uncle Peter away. She's sidelined in the family pictures, overlooked in the rain of birdseed and kisses, ignored during the round of bows that begins the solemn ceremony. Finally, she resorts to sabotaging the tea ceremony by discarding the tea and leaving Stella to serve her new family hot water. Mama steps in and has a heart-to-heart with Jen, who manages to limp through the rest of the ceremony, begins to enjoy herself at the delicious feast, and, when Stella invites her to release a box of live butterflies, becomes fully and lovingly reconciled with her newest auntie.
The quasi-comical contrast between Jen's brooding funk and the family's sunny happiness creates an emotional chiaroscuro that Heo effectively reflects in her mixed-media pictures. The effusive extended family floats and bounces in confection-colored space embellished with spidery little motifs and designs, and on every round face, with its stroke of eye, hint of nose, and daub of blushing cheek, there's a rosy arc of a smile—on every face, that is, except Jen's. Beaming, disembodied heads coo and chirp over the gift table, while a tiny Jen looks on in misery; Uncle Peter throws his arms wide open to greet his bride across a buttery yellow double-page spread, while an even further diminished Jen competes unsuccessfully for his attention; lithe cousins spring about airily in the bed-jumping ceremony (which presages fecundity for the newlyweds), while Jen is a heavy triangle of sadness affixed to the mattress. But as the evening wears on and Jen cheers up, her lips slyly betray satisfaction as she slurps her favorite noodles, her limbs loosen as she dances with LoBaak (“My great-grandmother, who can still get down at 103!”), she tips into a rakish angle of joy as butterflies swarm around her, and at last she snuggles softly into Aunt Stella's parting embrace.
Any child who's lumbered down the aisle under the fawning gaze of a room full of strangers, who's been swaddled in a miniature cummerbund, or who's merely been held for hours to an unrealistic standard of cleanliness and decorum will recognize that weddings aren't designed with a kid's comfort or entertainment in mind. As Jen demonstrates, though, embracing rather than resisting the experience is, on an altruistic level, the best gift one can offer the newlyweds and, on a purely selfish level, the best way to have a rousing good time. Whether that experience comprises hungbao, a chuppah, or the Hokey Pokey, Look will help young attendees catch the spirit of their own ethnic celebrations with this lively rendition of “Here Comes the Groom.” (See imprint information on p. 239.)
Elizabeth Bush , Reviewer
Cover image by Yumi Heo from Uncle Peter's Amazing Chinese Wedding © 2006. Used by permission of Schwartz/Atheneum.
This page was last updated on January 1, 2006.