About the Holiday
Summer is coming to a close and school is starting again. It’s a great time to reflect on the fun you’ve had in the warmer weather and all the memories that are about to be made as another year of activities, education, new friendships, and excitement unfolds. Happiness really does happen if you let it!
Written by Nancy Tupper Ling | Illustrated by Alina Chau
This quiet, thoughtful picture book tells the story of a family’s move from China to America in a series of unrhymed verses that reveal the experience honestly from alternating viewpoints of a brother, Jake, and his sister, Gracie. Each page is dedicated to one sibling or the other with the Jake’s poems written in blue and Gracie’s in purple. In several poems the children interact with each other, the blue and purple lines acting as dialog tags.
In the first poem, The Move, Gracie stands on her doorstep surrounded by boxes and suitcases and thinks, “I won’t go! / I won’t move / away / from our city house / by the trolley tracks….” But Jake is more adventurous and in the second poem, Train, is already imagining his new room. After considering different décor, he decides what he really wants is something familiar, something outside—“just one long train / that rocks and wobbles / my bed each night. / I can’t fall asleep until the train passes by.”
In Grandmother, the siblings are each given a happiness box by their Nai Nai, who wisely challenges her grandchildren to “Find four treasures each, / leading from this home / to your new.” Gracie takes this to heart, and readers see in Panda that even before leaving Nai Nai’s Gracie has added a favorite keepsake to her box: “Nai Nai’s panda sits / by the window / like always. / “I’ll miss you,” I say. / Nai Nai leans over me. / She places Panda / inside my box. / “He has a new home / now.”
Too soon moving day comes, and in Goodbye Gracie and Jake give hugs and kisses to beloved relatives. The search for items to fill Nai Nai’s boxes is taken up in the next three poems. In Treasure, Jake becomes a dragon keeping his “dragon eyes / wide open for stuff / along the way.” He is rewarded in Lucky, in which he discovers an old penny on the bus ride to the airport. In Leaf Gracie receives a surprising gift for her happiness box: “One stray leaf / flutters down / onto my box— / Eucalyptus! / If I had a koala I’d feed / her this minty meal all / day long— / the perfect treasure / to remind me of home.”
In keeping with the long hours of travel from China to the United States, the next six poems chronicle the brother and sister’s experiences in the airport, waiting for their plane, and during the flight. Airport sees the children running, hopping, waiting, and navigating their way through the crowds of people to their gate. Dad is already tuckered out in Quiet, but Jake is wrangling to look for treasure: “’Huff puff. Puff huff.’” / Dragon blows fire. / Dragon stomps his feet. / “’Ssshhh, you’ll wake Daddy. / I giggle. / Gracie giggles. / “’Daddy can sleep / anywhere.’” Jake finally discovers gum in his backpack and creates a treasure. “I stretch it / and roll it / and ooze it / into one slinky snake / Sssssee, his penny pillow. / Sssssee, he’s kai xin— / so happy—in his brown box. / I’m tied with Gracie now— / two treasures each.”
Adventures at the airport continue in Cat and Wings, and as the plane takes off Gracie draws pictures of the day’s events in Picture. In Here the children wake up to see their new city far below them and wonder, “can I find our house / from the sky?” Marble and Sadness juxtapose Jake’s happiness at finding another treasure for his box with the apprehension of Gracie as the plane lands and the family makes its way into their new country.
At last in Home the family reaches their new house by taxi. Gracie seems only to see the “piles of snow,” but Jake likes the “windy roads, lots of trees, and the curvy driveway.” In Explore Gracie and Jake walk around the countryside, and while Gracie still determines that she won’t like it, Jake hears a train and is happy. My Room and Dinner see the kids settling in, with a photograph of the family they’ve left behind accompanying them on the table while they eat. In A Surprise, Gracie finds that her grandmother is still with her through a special scarf, and in Paints Jake and Gracie accept the move as they paint their happiness boxes: Jake decorates his with a dragon and a train, while Gracie depicts herself and her brother walking in the snow and “they look very, / very / happy.”
While Double Happiness tells the story of a family’s distant move, Nancy Tupper Ling’s gentle verses are appropriate for any situation involving change or uncertainty. She reminds children that happiness can be found wherever they are and all around them if they look for it. The poems flow as freely as thoughts, fears, and unguarded moments. As Gracie and Jake resolve their feeling, readers or listeners will also see that feelings of apprehension are common, and that happiness is waiting for them.
Alina Chau’s soft, lovely watercolor illustrations are beautiful representations of Gracie and Jake’s move from the familiar surroundings of their home in China to a new home in a snowy countryside. The children’s emotions resonate as they alternate between sadness and happiness and between the concrete places of Nai Nai’s house, the airport, and their new city and their own imaginations of dragons, drawings, and dreams.
Ages 5 – 8
Chronicle Books, 2015 | ISBN 978-1452129181
Discover more books for children and adults by Nancy Tupper Ling on her website!
View a gallery of artwork by Alina Chau and more on her website!
**Note: As I take some personal days in the next few weeks, I will rerun updated posts published earlier in the year, including new interior art and links.
Happiness Happens Activity
Happiness is all around you! Grab one or more friends to play a game that reveals what things make you happy. Here are two ways to play:
- Like the “Geography” game: the first player names something that makes them happy, the next player must think of something that starts with the last letter of the word the previous player said. The game continues with each player continuing the pattern. Players drop out as they cannot think of a word. The last player left is
- Within a certain time limit (depending on age), players must think of something that makes them happy. Players drop out if they cannot think of a word within the time limit. The last player left is the winner.
Picture Book Review