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Ut’s sisters enter their new American school.
From The Asian Reporter, V14, #3 (January 13, 2004), page 16.
You can change your mind
Angel Child, Dragon Child
By Michele Maria Surat
Illustrated by Vo-Dinh Mai
Paperback, 35 pages, $4.99
By Josephine Bridges
"My sisters skipped through the stone gate two by two. Mother was not there to skip with me. Mother was far away in Vietnam." Nguyen Hoa, known at home as Ut, "a tender name for smallest daughter," narrates this story of the choices between cruelty and kindness that children must make again and again.
Hoa’s classmate Raymond has "fire-colored hair." He goads Hoa about her clothes and her language, but Hoa keeps her anger to herself until the boy turns his unkindness on her sister. Ironically, it is Hoa’s retaliation — when she behaves neither like a good angel child nor like a noble dragon child — that sets in motion the series of events that lead not only to tolerance, but to cooperation.
Michele Maria Surat’s prose sings. Hoa’s words remind us how much non-native speakers have enriched the English language. The clock "needles ticked slowly." What native speakers of English call a snowball is a "snowrock" to this child, who has never seen snow before. The principal’s shoes "squeegeed" up and down the hall.
Vo-Dinh Mai’s illustrations — which are largely unfinished early in the narrative but more and more complete as the narrative proceeds — are the perfect accompaniment to this vivid description of how we can change our minds. The drawing of Hoa and Raymond’s collaboration on the story of Hoa’s journey from Vietnam is the most astonishing example, but every illustration in Angel Child, Dragon Child is a small marvel.
This little book was published in 1983, but the story it tells will never grow old.