If only fourth-grader Anna Wang could read My Side of the Mountain, A Wrinkle in Time and her other beloved books all day long instead of worrying about making friends. It doesn’t help that she doesn’t own matching sweater sets like some of the “whispering” girls in class, that she’s ashamed to admit that her Chinese mother cleans apartments, and that she has to waste time each weekend at Chinese school, learning words she’ll never remember. In the softly affirming The Year of the Book, it’s time for Anna to open up to more than a book.

When classmate Laura’s separated parents argue dangerously, the girl must spend time with Anna’s family for Chinese New Year. Together they discover a mutual love for reading, sewing fabric bags and wanting to feel connected. Soon the once reserved Anna finds friends all around, from her chatty crossing guard and observant teacher to fellow Chinese American Camille, who could use Anna’s help to pass the fourth grade.

Abigail Halpin’s small sketches—as sweet as Anna herself—add to the charm of her expanding world. In addition to making new friends, she relishes her classroom writing assignments and finds gems of happiness all around, whether in the paper airplanes she makes with her “ABC” (American Born Chinese) father and brother, the tiny cereal boxes her father brings home from the convenience store or the Chinese characters she’s finally beginning to understand. And somehow Anna’s mother doesn’t seem as clueless about American culture anymore. Just as Anna’s favorite books take all forms, so too do her Chinese culture and community.

Sentimental without being cloying, The Year of the Book will create a new chapter in young readers’ own lives as they see the connections among reading, family and friendship.

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