Allison's Book Bag

Raggedy Chan by Camille Picott

Posted on: January 31, 2013

Let me introduce you to a little gem of about sixty pages that I read this week: Raggedy Chan by Camille Picott. The first in her Heritage Tale series, it really contains two stories. The first is about Emma Chan-McDougal, who receives a rag doll from her Auntie Gracie. The second is about a Chinese princess whose home is threatened by a drought. Through these two interwoven stories, Picott adeptly introduces readers to Chinese traditions while also acknowledging the perpetual struggle with alienation and assimilation faced by immigrants in their new country.

Emma is a Chinese-American who doesn’t know anything about her heritage. Aunt Gracie never comes out and tells Emma that it’s time for this to change, but simply starts introducing her to the Chinese way of life. What makes this setup nifty is that it allows Picott to subtly share Chinese culture with readers. When Auntie Gracie teaches Emma to use chopsticks, I am learning how I might try holding chopsticks during my next visit to an Asian restaurant. Although I probably couldn’t start instantly playing Mahjong based on the explanations given by Auntie Gracie, I’d now like to try the game. And while reading Raggedy Chan, I started craving wontons and Chinese food. In other words, Picott has piqued my interest in another culture. I can also imagine a second benefit to her story: whenever I’ve read a novel that featured unique aspects from my home province, I’ve felt excited to share a connection with the author and to have my diverse culture honored. Chinese-American young people might draw similar comfort from Raggedy Chan.

While visiting Emma, Aunt Gracie tells her the story of her doll. Yao-Chi is a Chinese princess who one day receives a visit from Multi-Splendored Bird. He warns her of an impending drought which will be inflicted upon the kingdom by Drought Fury. However, before Yao-Chi can act on this news, Drought Fury has stolen Winged Dragon—the creature responsible for rain. To save her kingdom, Yao-Chi follows the two to America. There, she encounters much hardship in her efforts to gain acceptance: Yao-Chi’s eyes are replaced by buttons and her skin color is turned white by silk worms ,so that she looks more American. Along the way, she also meets the legendary Paul Bunyan, who is feeling outcast because lumberjacks can’t compete with the chain saw or the locomotive. Picott weaves a fantastical and entertaining story where Chinese and American worlds collide, and should therefore have broad appeal. The unexpected twist at the end could also lead to interesting discussions about the immigration experience.

I loved Raggedy Chan! Tomorrow I’ll review Nine-Tail Fox, the second in Picott’s Heritage Series. If you check out either and like them, please post a comment here or on Picott’s site to encourage her to continue adding titles to this promising series.

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 "Raggedy Chan by Camille Picott"

I’m glad to promote such an awesome story!

Thanks for your review, Allison!

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