Sunday, November 1, 2009
Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything
Written by: Lenore Look
Illustrated by: Anne Wilsdorf
Lenore Look has created a memorable character with a lot of moxie in Ruby Lu. Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything is the second book in what I hope will be a long-running series. It's an early chapter book, perfect for emerging readers in first through fourth grade. Like another of Lenore Look's chapter books--Alvin Ho--it's a good read-aloud book for these ages too.
Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything begins in the spring of Ruby's second grade year. Her cousin Flying Duck has just immigrated to the United States with her family, and is living with Ruby's family. Ruby could not be more excited, for she gets the role of tour guide to Flying Duck. She's the one who gets to show her all the ordinary things of her city.
Another thing about Flying Duck that's fascinating to Ruby Lu is that she reads lips. After an accident at age four where she burst her eardrums, she was deaf. So while she is able to talk, she also reads lips and signs in Cantonese. Ruby thinks that "Lip-reading is a very useful skill. It comes in handy when you want to watch TV, but the TV is supposed to be turned off. And it comes in handy if you are outside looking in and your parents are inside talking about you."
Most importantly, Ruby gets appointed as Smile Buddy at school. This is the person who helps a new child feel welcome and shows them around. It's a job she's coveted since kindergarten, and comes complete with a big badge that she proudly wears pinned to her shirt.
As you might imagine, the newness of having a cousin living with your family, soon begins to fade. Suddenly, only Cantonese is spoken at home. Chopsticks replace the silverware. And Oscar, Ruby's baby brother, is able to sign more than he can speak. Ruby is ready to send Flying Duck back to China.
What makes Ruby so endearing is the earnestness with which she tackles everything that comes her way. For instance, more than anything she wants glasses. So much so, that she tapes an eye chart above her bed at night, memorizing it, so that she'll pass and get glasses (it's a great twist on how kids might perceive the purpose of eye exams).
There's a pivotal playground scene, where Ruby's on-again/off-again friend Emma calls Flying Duck an alien and start saying that "she's come to snatch us all away and use us in medical experiments! And she's already got you in her clutches!" Needless to say, Ruby defends her cousin and a scuffle ensues. Parents are called into the principal's office and the recommendation is made that both Ruby and Flying Duck attend summer school to help ease the transition they are going through.
So second grade ends on a less than stellar note for Ruby, and she begins the summer with a to-do list:
"My 12-Step Summer Plans:
1. Hold breth in swiming skool.
2. Put face in water.*
3. Blo bubels.*
4. Be frends again with Emma.*
5. Play with Flying Duck
6. Play with Oscar
Reluctantly she added:
7. Go to summer skool.*
There are lots of fun incidents throughout the summer that will further endear Ruby to her readers. She faces her biggest fear-the water-and ultimately, though not easily, emerges as a swimmer. It's an important lesson for all kids, because it's clear that up until that point, she had not been successful in the pool, and dreaded it. As the summer passes by, she is able to cross things off of her "12-Step Summer Plans" list. Her friendships with both Flying Duck and Emma go through rough patches, but ultimately survive and thrive.
Lenore Look has created a winner with Ruby Lu. The breezy writing makes each chapter fly by, leaving the reader craving for more. The book ends with just enough of a teaser to make you think (hope!) that a book about Ruby's experiences in third grade will soon be on its way.
There's a glossary at the end of the book that is funny and educational: "Ruby's Amazing Glossary and Guide to Important Words." Here are a few terms:
"Cantonese-Language needed to order yummy Chinese Food. But also shouted by parents when you are busted. Also used in Chinese school."
"goose bumps-A radar system for detecting anything scary or dangerous or wonderful or breathtakingly beautiful."
"Poh~Poh-(sounds like "paw paw") Grandma on your mother's side."