Allison's Book Bag

Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park

Posted on: April 4, 2012

Julia and her best friend Patrick would like to win a blue ribbon at the state fair. They like doing projects together and work well as a team. This time though they’re having trouble coming up with the perfect idea. Then Julia’s mom offers a suggestion: They can raise silkworms, just as Julia’s mom did when she was a girl in Korea. Unfortunately, Julia hates the idea. It doesn’t sound American.

Most of Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park is about the silkworm project. By the end of the book, I had learned silkworms need mulberry leaves to grow. (Hence, the name of the book.) It takes fifteen days for silkworms to look like anything other than periods. Shortly, after that, the silkworm eggs will seem to grow hairs. Actually, this means the eggs have hatched! Not too much longer after this, almost invisible strands of webbing will appear on the mulberry leaves. This is how silkworms attach to the mulberry leaves. And when the hatched worms are two weeks old, they’ll molt.  There are a few other facts, which you can discover for yourself.

Project Mulberry is also about relationships. For example, until Patrick, Julia had a hard time keeping friends. Whenever new friends would visit Julia’s house, they were quickly asked to play outside because they didn’t like the smell in the house. Julia is embarrassed by how grossed out by their reaction and asks her mom to stop making kimchee. It’s the source the smell, along with being a pickled cabbage from Korea. Then there’s the relationship between Julia and her younger brother. Like many typical siblings, Julia can’t stand him. Her nickname for him is “snot brain”.

And of course to fit the criteria for my graduate research paper, Project Mulberry is about different cultures. In this case, it’s about being American and being Korean. Some of the examples arise from routine life. For example, there’s the kimchee which I mentioned above.  Apparently, Koreans eat it every day–for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Not Julia! She prefers short ribs. Her family sometimes tease her about this, saying perhaps she isn’t Korean. She in turn thinks Patrick needs his DNA tested, because he’ll eat mouthfuls of kimchee sometimes even without rice.

Another example arises at school. Julia does not want to do something Asian for her science project. She wants “a nice, normal, All-American, red-white-and-blue kind of project.” Yet despite distancing herself from Korean ways, Julia wants to learn how Korean women set their embroidery apart from other Asians: The backside of their fabric looked exactly the same as the front, without a single knot or loose thread anywhere. What does it mean to be American but from another country or ethnicity?

On the flip side, there is even a discussion about what is means to be American. Patrick thinks Julia’s family is cool, because they have all this Korean stuff. He considers his family to be plain old nothing American. Julia tells him that he’s wrong. His family came from somewhere. Now Patrick begins to wonder about his family tree. What does it mean to be American?

Project Mulberry also tackles racism. Some examples are blatant. For example, on one of Julia’s first days to school, students had yelled “Chinka-Chinka-Chinaman” at her. Some such as Julia’s mom’s attitudes towards blacks are more subtle: “You know that black people in this country had a tough time. And lots of them haven’t had the same opportunities as whites. So I’m just making sure that you teacher has had enough opportunities to be a good teacher.” As Julia observes, her mom made her attitude sound reasonable. Yet it’s still prejudice.

Other examples explore the whole question about what racism is. Julia’s family assumes before meeting their neighbor Mr. Dixon, who owns a mulberry tree, that he is white. Ironically, he assumes the same thing–and so is surprised to find out they are Asian. When Mr. Dixon gives Julia peppers for her mom, although Julia is Korean, he makes the comment, “Don’t Chinese people use a lot of peppers in cooking?” On her part, Julia thinks that someone who was black (and so undoubtedly someone experienced with racism) would never make that generalization. Although neither of them intended meanness with their assumptions, she wonders if that makes a difference. Not knowing–and not caring that you do not know–can lead to not bothering to find out. That can be a problem.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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2 Responses to "Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park"

Wow, this sounds like a great read. I’m thinking this would be a good book for me to share with my kids. Thx so much for sharing your school project with us.

There is an interesting extra feature to Project Mulberry that I didn’t mention in my review. Between every chapter, Linda Sue Park inserts an imaginary conversation between her and the main character. In this way, readers also learn about the writing process for the book. Project Mulberry is quite educational, along with being a fun read. 🙂

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