Saturday, November 2, 2013

Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges

Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges

Rating: 5 stars

I'm not a volunteer-for-everything sort of mom.  I have three kids in two different schools and one still home with me.  So, like all of you, my time is limited.  I must choose wisely.  Usually my choices involve Ben's preschool.  It is close, familiar, laid-back, and very known.

But last year at my first volunteer gig in Lorelei's class, I was still trying to figure out the names of her classmates.  I volunteered at the End-of-the-Year party.  Holy mommy demerits, Batman.  I was embarrassed.  I thought: Next year.  Next year, I'll be better.  And I have been!  I actually know, like, SIX of her classmates.  Or a few more.

After hearing that I have a children's book blog, Lorelei's bright, young teacher suggested I be in charge of the Scholastic book orders.  I said yes.  Every month I select a few books to highlight to parent as especially worth purchasing.  Perfect: I have yet another excuse to find a bunch of children's books!

Ruby's Wish was one of my selections for November.  The story is based in once-upon-a-time China in a magnificent home of a wealthy family.  An old man went to California for the Gold Rush, and returns to China very rich.  He promptly marries many wives and, slightly less promptly, has many children.  Some years later, those children have children, so his house is filled with many grandchildren.

Ruby is one of them.
So at one time, the house was filled with the shrieks
and laughter of over one hundred children.

Because he has so many grandchildren, the man hires a teacher and sets up a school in his own house.  Unlike outside his house gates, girls can study in his home school.  And Ruby does.  She is the brightest student: the most diligent, the most earnest, the most enthusiastic.  She has to do twice as much as the boys--while they only have schooling, the granddaughters in the house must also learn to cook and keep the house and sew.

One by one, the girls stop going to the classes.  All except Ruby.  She finally admits to her grandfather that she wants to go to university like the boys more than get married, like the girls.

On New Year's Day, all the grandchildren receive a thick red packet full of money.  But Ruby's red envelope is filled with something else: a letter from a university, saying that they would be proud to accept Ruby as one of their first female students.

It's a true story--Ruby is the author's grandmother.

This is children's nonfiction done really, really well.  The history and cultural differences are mind-stretching for a young American in a really, really good way.  There are many conversations that will easily spark from this story from a distinctly different place.

The past few weeks I've been struck by gratitude in a huge way.  And this book definitely provides an opportunity for kids like Lorelei to be oh-so-freaking grateful for the primo education they are receiving. And a reminder to appreciate that schooling by working hard and being enthusiastic and savoring it as much as a sweet six year old can.

P.S.  I just can't find a way to work into my text the beautiful illustrations by Sophie Blackall...a lame postscript will have to suffice.  We've not come across her work before but I'm about to order a few more books illustrated by her from the library.  She does this book, this story such justice with her soft but strong illustrations!  I am very impressed.

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