________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 3. . . .September 18, 2009

cover

Shu-Li and Diego.

Paul Yee. Illustrated by Shaoli Wang. Vancouver, BC: Tradewind Books. 2009.
82 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 978-1-896580-53-1.

Subject Heading: Dogs-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Huai-Yang Lim.

*** /4

   

excerpt:

The sky brightened and the rain stopped. But Baxter wasn’t in the alley or in any of the nearby streets. Shu-Li and Diego peered under porches and behind bushes. They went into Grandview Park and checked the clubhouse, the washrooms and the playground. Diego whistled, but Baxter didn’t come running.

“How could you be so stupid?” Shu-Li asked. “Are you sure you tied him up?”

“He slipped out of his collar!”

“Is that how you lost Paco?”

“Let’s try the pet store,” Diego said, glaring at her. “Maybe Mr. Kogawa can help.”

As a sequel to Shu-Li and Tamara, Paul Yee’s Shu-Li and Diego continues with the representation of cross-cultural friendship by portraying the friendship between Shu-Li and her classmate, Diego, who has immigrated with his family from Guatemala. Besides Shu-Li, readers will recognize characters from the previous book, people such as Shu-Li’s parents, her friend Tamara, and her teacher Mr. Ortega. However, these characters are less significant to this book’s main plotline. In contrast to the previous book’s more extensive focus on Shu-Li and Tamara’s relationship and their interaction with other children in their class, this book focuses more exclusively on the relationship between Shu-Li and Diego. It depicts the experiences of Shu-Li and Diego when they take care of Baxter, the dog belonging to their neighbour, Mr. Simpson, who is in hospital. When Shu-Li and Diego visit Mr. Simpson, his dog Baxter causes a disruption when he escapes from their grasp and runs down the hallway. Later, Baxter goes missing, and Shu-Li and Diego put up ads all over town to let everyone know that he’s lost. Fearing the worst for Baxter, Shu-Li thinks about how she should break the news to Mr. Simpson that his dog has gone missing.

internal art

     The issue of prejudice was addressed more overtly in Shu-Li and Tamara through Tamara and Shu-Li’s parents, both of whom were targets of prejudicial attitudes. In contrast, the characters’ ethnic and cultural backgrounds do not provide the same catalyst for the story’s progression in Shu-Li and Diego. Although a momentary confrontation occurs between Shu-Li and some unfriendly girls from her class, these girls’ comments arise in relation to the situation caused by Mr. Simpson’s dog, rather than by any ethnic or class prejudices that they might possess. Similarly, this story portrays Shu-Li’s parents as an accepted part of the community, whereas Shu-Li and Tamara draws more attention to their difference by showing, for example, how Shu-Li’s mother is laughed at because of her English language skills.

     This is not to suggest that Shu-Li and Diego is a less valuable read than the first book, but rather that its narrative provides a less explicit exemplification of interpersonal relationships that cross ethnic and cultural boundaries. Although Diego is a South American immigrant, he does not experience the same difficulties in his friendship with Shu-Li that her friendship with Tamara has had in Shu-Li and Tamara. Instead, the difficulties faced by Shu-Li and Diego arise from how they act while they take care of Mr. Simpson’s dog Baxter, rather than from how other people treat them as a result of their ethnic and class backgrounds.

     The representation of interpersonal relationships that cross ethnic and cultural boundaries is portrayed more implicitly through the characters’ interaction. Like Shu-Li and Tamara, this book does exemplify a friendship based on trust and mutual support. Shu-Li and Diego help each other to take care of Mr. Simpson’s dog, even though they face challenges when doing so. When Baxter goes missing, the pet store owner, Mr. Kogawa, and Tamara both help them. Similarly, Shu-Li’s classmates help to prepare for Mr. Simpson’s coming-home party at her parents’ deli where the neighbours have also been invited. This final scene can be seen as a symbolic representation of a multicultural neighbourhood in which people live harmoniously. Two of Shaoli Wang’s illustrations, which depict Shu-Li’s classmates in the classroom and at the party further highlight the multicultural nature of this neighbourhood.

     The ending to Shu-Li and Diego is somewhat predictable at least to the extent that books for younger children typically have happy endings. Still, there is a twist that makes this book’s ending more satisfying. Its language level and short chapters will make it appropriate for children aged seven to nine. This book will be easier to comprehend than Shu-Li and Tamara because its plot does not require culturally specific knowledge about Chinese customs or an understanding of the ways in which prejudicial attitudes and discrimination are manifested. There is one overt reference to the challenges that immigrants face when Diego’s father, Mr. Castillo, mentions that, even though he has been a doctor back in his home country, he needs to become certified before he can practice as a doctor in Canada. However, because this reference is only mentioned in passing, younger children may not grasp its significance unless adults explain this to them.

     The book’s illustrator is Shaoli Wang, who has illustrated Paul Yee’s previous books Shu-Li and Tamara and Bamboo. Her black and white illustrations highlight important moments in the story, such as when Mr. Simpson’s dog Baxter runs through the park, when Baxter tries to catch the squirrel that is running up a tree, and when Shu-Li and Diego walk down a street in their neighbourhood to tape up posters to advertise that Baxter is lost. Wang’s illustrations also serve to emphasize the mood or to assist the reader’s visualization of the setting in specific scenes. For example, at one point of the story, Shu-Li is finishing her chores in her family’s restaurant and is feeling sad because she misses her friend Tamara. The accompanying illustration on the opposite page emphasizes Shu-Li’s feelings in the current scene and also helps readers to visualize the kitchen and the vegetables that Shu-Li is helping to prepare. Like the other illustrations in this book, the style of this scene’s illustration is not overly complex in its detail and uses shades of gray.

     Overall, readers will enjoy this story and its not entirely predictable ending. The book’s last two pages has tips for taking care of dogs that readers with dogs may find useful. This book would be a good addition to a school or public library’s collection where it can contribute to the existing body of books that deal with cross-cultural friendships or relationships. As a teaching tool, both Shu-Li and Diego and Shu-Li and Tamara could be incorporated into a unit on Canadian multiculturalism. However, Paul Yee’s previous book, Shu-Li and Tamara would be more useful for teachers who want to discuss the problems of prejudice and discrimination that arise from ethnic, cultural, and class differences. In contrast, Shu-Li and Diego would be more useful as a literary representation of positive multicultural relationships. Librarians could also use this book in a read-aloud programming session.

     For more information on Paul Yee, readers can visit his official website at: http://www.paulyee.ca

Recommended.

Huai-Yang Lim has a degree in Library and Information Studies and currently works as a researcher. He enjoys reading, reviewing, and writing children's literature in his spare time.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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