Summary: The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin is about a young Taiwanese girl named Grace, or Pacy, as her family calls her, living in New York. It is the Year of the Dog and she is told that now is the time to “find yourself.” And what a year it turns out to be for her. She meets a new friend who is also Asian, crushes on a boy, and of course, struggles with her own cultural identity. But in the end, she does a learn a thing or two about herself.
Cultural Markers: The most obvious cultural marker we see in the novel is the tradition of the Chinese New Year, celebrated by their culture and is the the theme that runs the story. Chinese traditions continue with celebrations like Christmas, where they get red envelopes with money or putting Chinese New Year candy in the New Year tray. And then there is the whole struggle of cultural identity throughout the story. Even though she meets Melody Ling, another Chinese American in her all white class, things don’t become much easier for her. For starters, she want to play Dorothy in the schools rendition of Wizard of Oz, she is reminded that Dorothy is not Chinese and even calls herself dumb for even thinking she can play Dorothy. Grace notices that Chinese aren’t really represented and even asks her mother, “How come Chinese people are not important?” As her struggle continues, she is called a “twinkie” for not being able to speak Chinese or Taiwanese. She states “To Americans, I’m too Chinese, and to Chinese people, I am too American. So which one am I supposed to be?”Her mom tells her that she needs to accept that she is from both cultures and to embrace it.
Personal Reflection: This novel is mostly about cultural identity and finding oneself. Grace’s struggle is quite common and is very relatable to a large amount of students. She is confused as to what culture she actually fits in. The illustrations throughout the book make it all the more entertaining and easier to follow. As a middle school teacher, I feel that due to the reading level and overall theme of the book, that I really should incorporate in my lessons.
From School Library Journal: “Grade 3-5–A lighthearted coming-of-age novel with a cultural twist. Readers follow Grace, an American girl of Taiwanese heritage, through the course of one year–The Year of the Dog–as she struggles to integrate her two cultures. This is an enjoyable chapter book with easily identifiable characters.”
From Booklist: “*Starred Review* Gr. 3-5. When Lin was a girl, she loved the Betsy books by Carolyn Hayward, a series about a quintessentially American girl whose days centered around friends and school. But Lin, a child of Taiwanese immigrants, didn’t see herself in the pages. Now she has written the book she wished she had as a child. Told in a simple, direct voice, her story follows young Grace through the Year of the Dog, one that Grace hopes will prove lucky for her.”
• 2006 Fall Publisher’s Pick
• Starred Booklist Review
• 2006 ALA Children’s Notable
• 2006 Asian Pacific American Librarian Association Honor
• 2006 National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) GOLD Winner
• 2007-2008 Texas Bluebonnet Award Masterlist
• 2007 Nene Awards Recommended List (Hawaii’s Book Award Chosen by Children Grades 4-6)
• 2007 Cochecho Readers’ Award List (sponsored by the Children’s Librarians of Dover, New Hampshire)
• NYPL 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2006
• Kirkus Best Early Chapter Books 2006
•2006 Booklist Editors’ Choice for Middle Readers
•Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choice 2007
•Boston Authors Club Recommended Book
•2007-2008 Great Lakes Great Books Award nominee
•2007-2008 North Carolina Children’s Book Award nominee
•2007-2008 West Virginia Children’s Book Award nominee
•2009 Beverly Cleary Children’s Choice Award (OR) nominee
•2009 Pacific Northwest Young Readers Choice Award (WA, OR, ID)nominee
There is a readers guide with questions about the book that one could use with their class as they read the book together.
Lin, Grace. 2006. THE YEAR OF THE DOG. New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0316060004