Cheng, known for exploring issues of diversity (Shanghai Messenger, illustrated by Ed Young, 2005, etc.), tackles a custom that many will find disorienting. Sharon and her younger sister are upset that their two-year-old brother, Di Di, will live with extended family in China for the “only one year” of the title. Mother explains that it is better for him to be cared for by family than by strangers at day care while everyone is at work or school. “We have to do what is best for Di Di,” she says. “Not what is best for us.” Sharon’s narration follows the sisters throughout the year as they attend school, make friends and play, all the while missing Di Di. Those familiar with this practice will appreciate the book’s frank and thoughtful tone that never diminishes the family’s longing. For others, Di Di’s trauma upon his return, when he no longer recognizes his parents or sisters nor understands or speaks English, will resonate. An author’s note provides some background, but the notion may well be too jarring for many readers to accommodate easily. Wong’s graceful black-and-white sketches complement the text. (Fiction. 7-11)
Only One Year
Sharon can hardly believe the news. Di Di, her two-year-old brother, is being taken to China to spend a year with their grandparents. Why can’t he go to day care or be watched by a babysitter when Mama goes back to work? Sharon wonders. But her parents say it is better for relatives to take care of little children.
After Di Di first leaves, Sharon and her younger sister, Mary, pore over the photographs their grandma sends, trying to keep their little brother fresh in their minds. As the year passes, the girls become involved with school, friends, and hobbies. They think of Di Di less often. Then one day he is home again, and it feels as if a stranger has entered their lives. The children struggle to sort out their mixed emotions but soon discover that the bonds among siblings hold strong.
This reassuring story is a gentle tribute to the enduring love of family, even when it is tested by a difficult choice.
Although she sometimes finds him troublesome, fourth-grader Sharon can’t bear the idea that her two- year-old brother, Di Di, will spend a whole school year with relatives in China while she and her first- grade sister, Mary, go to school and her parents work. Time passes faster than she expects, as she and Mary forge a new relationship by building a dollhouse and playing school after homework is done. Di Di returns in the summer, and after a period of readjustment fits back into the family. Soon he’s off to preschool himself. While it is not atypical for immigrant families to send children to relatives, it is an unusual subject for a chapter book. The first-person narrative opens up Sharon’s conflicted feelings, and it is clear that what is best for Di Di is not easy for anyone, including her parents. Realistically, the fitting- back-in period is even more difficult than the absence. Supportive black-and-white illustrations and a glossary/pronunciation guide for the occasional Chinese words and phrases complete the appealing package of this gentle family story." Booklist Feb. 15
"While American children might be initially surprised to read about a small boy living away from his immediate family for such a long time, Cheng’s tender story reminds us that there are many ways to raise children. Frequent, homey black-and-white illustrations and back matter such as a pronunciation guide, glossary, and author’s note add to the yo
"a quiet yet resonant novel that explores a practice unfamiliar to most American children. . . . Moving moments underscore the void his absence leaves. . . . further humanized by Wong's delicate line art. Cheng's concluding note gives cultural context to her insightful story."