Like most seventh-grade girls, Julia Song just wants to be seen as normal. That’s hard to do when her family is the only Korean one in town, and her best friend, Patrick, has an enthusiasm for Korean culture that sometimes makes Julia think he needs to “get his DNA tested.” It’s bad enough that he has a love affair with stinky Korean kimchee, but when he embraces her mother’s suggestion that he and Julia raise silkworms for their state fair project, Julia’s had enough. Raising silkworms was something her grandmother did back in Korea and sounds way “too Korean” for Julia’s taste.
“I didn’t want my house to smell like kimchee. I didn’t want kids to yell, ‘Chinka-chinka-Chinaman’ at me. And I didn’t want to do something weird and Asian for the Wiggle Club.”
Newbery Award-winning author Linda Sue Park has created a rich story with characters that are as imperfect as they are easy to identify with. Though the main plot centers around the silkworm project – and Julia’s attempts to sabotage, then later champion it – it’s also a story that explores life cycles, prejudices and how we are all more interconnected than we realize. Park presents characters who are not only diverse and true-to-life, but also show the reader how biases can be set aside when there is a common goal involved.
Between the chapters, Linda Sue Park and Julia have humorous, side-conversation which make Julia feel even more life-like. Literally. Readers gets a taste of real “writer’s block” when Julia stops talking and Park gets angry at her.
“Julia! I’ve given you more than a month! Enough is enough! You can’t run away from this – it’s your story and you have to see it through!”
Project Mulberry is an excellent intermediate title that touches many themes and doesn’t spare the reader (or Julia) some of life’s realities. It is funny and thoughtful and will leave students with plenty to think about: What makes a good state fair project? And what to do when you think your Mom is racist?
Park tells Julia in the last pages “…your story could continue in the minds of the readers. They can keep thinking about you and what might happen to you.” When Julia asks if that’s really going to happen, Park answers, “Not all of them. But some of them might.”
We think Park is right. Project Mulberry won’t be easy to forget.