Book Review: Ming's Christmas Wishes

Ming's Christmas Wishes
Susan L. Gong, 2020

New Release! A copy of this book was provided by Netgalley for the purpose of review. 

I had to read through this children's book twice to understand it, but it definitely grew on me. 

This short, beautifully illustrated children's book follows a few days in the life of a young Chinese-American girl in the 1930s. Ming wants a Christmas tree (this is related to a larger desire to fit in at school), but her mother won't hear of it. 

The next day, Ming's father takes her to visit some family friends and some places his father took him when he was young. The trip connects her with her heritage, and they even come back with a tree to decorate - not a fir tree to cut down and discard, but a Chinese pine to keep in a pot. 

That all sounds simple enough, but there's something distinctive about the way this book is written, and it's somewhat unsettling if you're expecting a standard children's story. For one thing, the book is full of unanswered questions. On the first page, Ming is told that she can't sing in the Christmas choir at school. This barely comes up again, and it isn't resolved at the end. Ming's father tells her at one point that her mother's story is a "hard" one, but we never find out what that means. There are lots of aspects of Chinese culture that are alluded to without being completely spelled out.

I can't decide whether this feels more like a flaw in the writing, or like a choice to leave space. Parents could encourage kids to speculate and guess at the details, and it does allow the story to be more open-ended. Ming can't be all "American" and she can't be all Chinese, and stories like hers don't have pat, resolved-in-the-third act endings.

It's still a happy ending, but it's more complicated than I expected. 

I mentioned that the art (by Masahiro Tateishi) is lovely, and the writing is often lovely as well. It's full of poetic little turns of phrase that evoke Chinese or Japanese poetry.

Overall a unique little book, but not for everyone.