Ellen Oh‘s article Dear White Writers poses some interesting questions for me as a curator of this Diverse Book Review series. She challenges white writers to support #WNDB by reading, buying and promoting diverse books, not necessarily by attempting to write them. That is not to say that authors can never cross color/other lines in their fiction–many writers of many backgrounds do this successfully. But what happens when privileged writers claim the diverse spaces on publishers’ booklists when we know that those spaces are limited? Writers of color and other diverse backgrounds can get edged out of the opportunity to tell their own stories, as described by Jacqueline Woodson in her post “Who Can Tell My Story?”. Not okay.
So for today’s Windows/Mirrors Book Review, and in honor of the Year of the Monkey, I am pleased to present, telling her own story:
“‘Oh good,” Ling says. ‘I know this story.’”
If you were ever a fan of Frog & Toad, you will love Ling & Ting. Grace Lin perfectly captures the back and forth of a close friendship between two very different people, and like Arnold Lobel, highlights those differences as the root of the loving humor in her stories.
Read this book because it’s the first of four, so you will get to spend a lot of time with these spunky sisters. The language of each chapter cycles back on itself in a way that always moves the story forward, so it supports readers without becoming repetitive. Likewise, the structure of the book builds a cumulative story to a satisfying ending.
Add this book to your collection because Lin has thoughtfully layered her work to be engaging, accessible to new readers, culturally normative AND culturally informative. Its main characters—two twin girls of Chinese descent—challenge the racist stereotype that “all Asians look alike,” something that Lin considered carefully when developing her story. In the illustrations, the Ling & Ting not only dress identically, but also look identical, until the fateful moment early in the series when the irrepressible Ting cannot sit still for her haircut. But in personality the girls could not be more distinct, even though they amiably share interests and activities in all the stories.
“Making Dumplings” was one of my favorite stories, especially with the artistic reference to In the Night Kitchen on the title page. Lin manages to weave in the cultural meaning of dumplings without being the least bit didactic, in a way that further illuminates the premise of the entire book—to be twins does not mean to be exactly the same. The following story, “Chopsticks,” hilariously relates a common childhood experience for many—the challenge of chopsticks.
As a writer, I particularly admire the metaliterary element of the stories “The Library Book,” in which a book refers Ting back to an earlier story, and “Mixed Up,” which like Lobel’s “The Story,” contains a story within a story.
More Books by Grace Lin include:
- Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (2010 Newbery Honor)
- Starry River of the Sky
- The Year of the Dog
- The Year of the Rat
- Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same
- Ling & Ting: Twice as Silly
- Ling & Ting Share a Birthday
- Ling & Ting: Together in all Weather
Illustrated by Grace Lin—
More from Grace Lin:
“Books erase bias, they make the uncommon every day, and the mundane exotic. A book makes all cultures universal.” —Grace Lin