Shanghai Messenger

"You are my messenger. Look everything. Remember." Grandma Nai Nai tells eleven-year-old Xiao Mei as the girl heads off to Shanghai, China, to visit their extended family. Xiao Mei is both excited and apprehensive. She will meet many new relatives, but will they accept her, a girl from America who is only half Chinese?

Xiao Mei is eagerly embraced by her aunties, uncles and cousins and quickly immersed in the sights, smells and hubbub of daily living in Shanghai. At first battling homesickness, Xiao Mei soon ventures on her own, discovering the excitement of a different way of life and a new appreciation of her Chinese heritage. When it is finally time to leave, Xiao Mei must gather up her memories and bring "a little bit of China" back home.

Ed Young's exquisite drawings touchingly highlight Andrea Cheng's lyrical story of adventure, self-discovery, and the strong bonds that tie families together.

I see my face in the rice water, two braids, hanging down, fuzzy curls all around, half Chinese, half not. In China will people stare at my eyes with Green flecks like Dad's?
Author perspective

Shanghai Messenger combines two experiences. In 1968, when I was eleven years old, I traveled from Ohio to Hungary by myself to visit my relatives. I had never met my cousins, aunts or uncles before. Xiao Mei's feelings, in Shanghai Messenger, are similar to the way I remember feeling excited, scared, and curious. In 1997, I traveled to Shanghai, China, with my husband and our three children to meet my husband's extended family. Most of the scenes in Shanghai Messenger come from our stay there with my husband's aunts, uncles, and cousins. Xiao Mei is modeled on Jane, my older daughter, who was eleven at the time of our trip. Like most of my books, Shanghai Messenger draws heavily on both my experience and that of my children.

Kirkus (starred)

(starred)Half-Chinese Xiao Mei (May in English) is eleven, going alone from Ohio to visit her extended family in Shanghai. In vivid poems, almost iridescent in their clarity of feeling, May wonders if people in China will stare at her green-flecked eyes; sees what her great-grandfather carved in stone in Suzhou Gardens; buys a live duck for lunch in the marketplace. The fear of being so far from the familiar and the ache of a loving but very different set of relatives are exquisitely delineated no more so than in Young's beautiful illustrations. Each page is laid out with borders and centerpieces with a red Chinese grillwork pattern in perfect geometry; while soft-edged brillantly colored vignettes of May learning t'ai chi, riding on a moped to take laundry to dry, playing catch with a child and a red ball, illuminate every page. Some images catch at the heart-Auntie unwrapping a wonton to tuck the last speck of pork in before cooking, or May back in Ohio missing the shouting farmers outside her window in Shanghai. Wonderfully evocative,"

School Library Journal

"Eleven-year-old Xiao Mei is on her way to China to meet her extended family. She was initially reluctant to make the trip, wondering if she would be accepted because she is only half Chinese, but her grandmother, Nai Nai, tells stories of family members that pique her curiosity. Xiao Mei agrees to be Nai Nai's messenger, and to 'Look everything./Remember.' Once in Shanghai, the girl is warmly welcomed, and begins to learn about and appreciate her heritage. She makes wontons with Auntie, visits gardens where her great-grandfather's words are carved in the archways, and participates in morning Tai Chi exercises. When Xiao Mei returns home to Ohio after a week, she takes gifts, including a fan painted by an uncle that brings 'a little bit of China' to America. Cheng does an admirable job of capturing this experience from the perspective of a child, and each free-verse chapter is brief but satisfying. With the exception of one spread illustrating the Tai Chi exercises, Young's illustrations delicately intertwine with the text, gently supporting each vignette. This is a superb book, capturing both the excitement and adventure of Xiao Mei's trip, as well as her realization that family ties can bridge great distances."

Publisher's Weekly

"Cheng's (Marika) vivid writing and Young's (Beyond the Great Mountain) resonant illustrations mesh perfectly in this story about the close bonds of family. Xiao Mei, an 11-year-old Chinese-American girl, travels from Ohio to Shanghai to visit her Chinese relatives. The novel unspools in humorous, often poignant free-verse poems. The one called "Shanghai Messenger" describes the lone traveler's anxiety on the plane, until she discovers a note in her pocket, written by Nai Nai, her grandmother: "You are my messenger./Look everything./Remember." After Xiao Mei arrives in China, she is swept into the arms of her extended family. She makes wontons with her auntie ("Pork, green onions,/each wrapper gets a bit,/then fold the thin dough/and pinch tight," with spot illustrations that demonstrate the steps), visits the Suzhou Gardens ("Great Grandfather walked here/and Nai Nai/and Auntie/and my cousins/and me") and stops for Tai Chi in the park: "I bend at the waist/like the ladies/and feel the dew/on my fingers." A wordless spread depicts the group's graceful moves. The poem-like vignettes flow down vertically, framed by red interlinking lines that stimulate Chinese screens. This border, alongside soft-edged pastels, gives the pages a feeling as intimate as this closely-knit family. Readers of any ethnic background will enjoy learning about China through Xiao Mei's curious eyes, but for those with far-flung families, the book will have special significance,"

Book type: 
Picture book
Lee and Low Books
Ed Young
Publication date: 
Sep 2005
Interest level: 
Junior Library Guild Selection, Jun 2005
Bank Street College Best Books of the Year, Jan 2005
Parent's Choice Recommended Award Winner , Jun 2005