Summer has snuck up on us again. Another school year coming to a close, another “move up day” at my daughter’s school soon to be completed. And that means many families are hitting the road, or taking to the skies, for an adventure. Ah, the Family Vacation. As a kid, my family took vacations to places like Yosemite National Park, the Grand Canyon, or Disneyland. Spending time with each other created some of the best of times, and the nuttiest of times. And it’s the nutty kind that makes for some awesome reading.
These three novels each paint unique pictures of family adventures. I love how these characters literally embark on a journey to far-away places, only to find that their destination was so close to their hearts all along.
Now here is a main character after my own heart. Pacy and her parents and two sisters, Lissy and Ki-Ki, head off to Taiwan during the summer to celebrate her grandmother’s 60th birthday. Now, I’ve never been to Taiwan, but Pacy and I do share a passion: dumplings. In fact, if you read this book before lunch, you will get so hungry, you’ll raid your refrigerator. Pacy’s adventure in Taiwan takes her to night markets packed with food stalls and bullet trains speeding to the town of Taichung. Her inner journey is so heartfelt, and tackles questions of being Taiwanese American. Pacy doesn’t speak Taiwanese, but looks Taiwanese, because she is Taiwanese, and this causes confusion on the part of natives and herself. It’s a lovely look at being bi-cultural, and embracing all sides of yourself.
When I first read about Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern riding on an airplane among those “Cassius Clay” clouds, I was hooked. It’s the summer of 1968, and the three sisters are in need of some mother love. From Brooklyn, they fly off to Oakland, California to spend the summer with their estranged mother, Cecile. It’s not exactly an ideal family vacation. Cecile wants nothing to do with the girls, but here they are, plopped on Cecile’s doorstep, dreaming of Disneyland. And wondering, who is this woman that abandoned them? Cecile, in her Cecile way, ignores them, and sends them to a summer camp sponsored by the revolutionary group, the Black Panthers. Delphine is the oldest, the responsible one, and you really feel for her. She steps in and takes care of her sisters, when her mother refuses. With a growing awareness of the Black Panthers’ mission, Delphine and her sisters discover their own place in the movement and the importance of stepping up and taking a stand; while at the same time, they find a way to honor their mother with poetic justice.
Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and other Tourist Attractions by Lenore Look. Forthcoming on August 14th 2014.
Even though this new Alvin Ho book doesn’t take place during the summer, it’s still worth tagging along on this family trip. You’ve got to love Alvin Ho. He’s such a worrywart, you can’t help but wrap your arms around him. With hand sanitizer, of course. The Ho Family takes off for Beijing to visit relatives and Alvin is simply terrified. Luckily, he has his PDK, personal disaster kit. That is, when he doesn’t leave it left behind in bathrooms. Despite a few run-ins with airport security, Alvin arrives in Beijing, jet-lagged, and ready to tackle China. Not. He has to meet new relatives, two of them girls. The Great Wall is too long. The Forbidden City has squat toilets. And he loses his dad’s passport. Despite the horrors, even Alvin manages to make a friend in this land of 1.3 billion people.
Take along Pacy, Delphine, and Alvin on your next adventure. They’re always carry-on friendly.
Frances Lee Hall’s debut middle grade novel, FRIED WONTON, is forthcoming from Egmont USA in 2015. Frances earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Find her at www.francesleehall.com and on Twitter @fleehall