In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson

by Bette Bao Lord (1984)

Shirley Temple Wong is ten years old and Brooklyn, New York is a brand new world for her, circa 1947. At first Brooklyn is a curiosity as Shirley thinks often of her old life in Chungking and how different things were there. But the charms of Brooklyn (and America) soon begin to work on Shirley.  She learns the ways and mores of her American schoolmates – what they eat (meatball subs!), what they play (stickball and stoopball), and who they root for (the Brooklyn Dodgers). It is through the collective affection for the Dodgers that Shirley – like thousands of Brooklynites (and Americans) – becomes enamored of the great Jackie Robinson in his inaugural season.

Bette Bao Lord nicely opposes Shirley’s old life and customs with the strange new attractions of Brooklyn and America – from ice-boxes to streetcars. More importantly, Shirley learns through Jackie Robinson’s example why America represents a land of opportunity for many people from many lands for many different reasons. Opportunity and freedom mean different things to different people. None of this is explained didactically as Shirley is ten years old, and she is chiefly concerned with learning how to buy candy from the store across the street, learning piano, and learning the ways of the Italian immigrant who lives in her apartment building.  And, with all of this new knowledge, she holds onto (and gains an understanding of) some of the leftover tales and customs of her grandfather.

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson has been beguiling readers for 25 years. It is, however, a slightly more sophisticated novel (the first chapter is by far the hardest), and recommended for schools looking for a second or third novel to keep challenging and expanding the horizons of their One School, One Book community.