This book, The Legend of Auntie Po, had an interesting journey to my hand. I was interested in reading, but never got around to it. One day it was on the returns cart next to my desk (Ah! MY desk! I promise you that year with the other desk meant nothing to me). I picked it up, browsed it, and decided, yes, I will read it.
A coworker saw I had it and said how much she loved the book. After I finished, we talked about how fantastic it was. She mentioned how she liked the illustrations. They made this book not feel like a graphic novel, but as illustrations in a book. Coworker also said while it will not “capture you” if you are looking for a big action book, it is for that child who is “looking for feminists” books.” (True story: Recently, this coworker had a child of around seven ask, “Do you have any feminists’ books?” I am sure my coworkers’ eyes sparkled even more than they did when she was telling this tale.) The colors are bold, but not overpowering. They are sweet and simple without being simplistic. The details are minimal, but captures feelings, events, people, and place.
Said coworker also mentioned that there were scenes where Mei and Bee had an air of possibly, of being queer characters (the author, Shing Yin Khor, confirms in an afterwards that they wanted to write a queer, Chinese character). However, we both agreed that this was not necessarily a “queer character” story. It was a book about two girls who, in the world of a lumber camp, with few females and fewer children, became best friends. This is despite the fact one is the daughter of the white, lumber camp manager and the other the daughter of the Chinese cook. Even when Mei is jealous of Bee’s “eyeing” the new lumberjack, it can easily be interpreted either as Mei’s love for Bee or Mei is jealous that her friend might/is leaving her.
This and the rest of the story shows how the friendship between Mei and Bee was sweet, open and it brings history to life. The differences of the two girls in the 1880’s is discussed and shown in historic details. This is a sweet story of history of America, lumbermills, lumber camps, immigrants, women, and the Chinese of this country. It is a story about love of fathers and daughters, of culture, of their family, their friends, and the people of the camp. And it about the true meaning of what family is. There is a “little death” towards the end, but it is handled tastefully.
Mei’s world, culture and budding feelings come alive with lovely text and simple but emotionally telling illustrations. Ages, strong 7 and 8 to about 12-13 (and of course, adults) can enjoy this tale.