For the holidays, I had planned to set aside reading youth literature and focus more on books written for grown folks. So I purchased Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. But my plans didn't last for very long.
Last night, I woke up at about 2 a.m. with a terrible headache. I couldn't get back to sleep, so I decided to read. I reached over the side of the bed to grab Blink, but instead I found Alvin Ho, by Lenore Look. I couldn't put it down and read the whole thing.
The author of Alvin Ho is a storytelling genius. She completely nailed it. The book is funny, smart and clever in all the right places.
Alvin Ho is an Asian American second grader. He is afraid of everything—elevators, tunnels, heights, scary movies, shots, girls, school, the dark. Even though he keeps his PDK (Personal Disaster Kit) nearby, it doesn't always help because you never know exactly what you'll need in a personal disaster, and it has to be updated every school year.
What especially struck me about the character Alvin Ho was how accurately Look portrayed a shy kid, without ever using the word shy, bashful or introvert. His actions (like his inability to talk when he entered a school), his thoughts, the way he solved problems, clearly illustrated his crippling shyness without ever having to label him. I was a shy kid, so I could totally relate to Alvin Ho.
And just like Alvin Ho in the chapter Psychotherapy, my parents also sent me to a psychotherapist at about his same age to find out why I wouldn't talk. That chapter in Alvin Ho's life ended on a much funnier note than mine — I didn't curse out the "psycho" in Shakespearean lingo — but Alvin's experience struck home with me.
Children's books like this are so necessary — books with everyday, contemporary Asian characters. Stories that aren't necessarily about being, say, Chinese, but just so happen to be written from the POV of a Chinese child . . . who thinks he's a super hero and who actually thinks chicken pox are cool.
Just as successful are LeUyen Pham's ink illustrations. They're funny and will have you laughing out loud.