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From The Asian Reporter, V14, #10 (March 2, 2004), page 15.
A grandchild’s gift
Goldfish and Chrysanthemums
By Andrea Cheng
Illustrated by Michelle Chang
Lee and Low Books, 2003
Hardcover, 29 pages, $16.95
By Josephine Bridges
When Nancy’s Grandma Ni Ni gets a letter from China with the sad news that her father’s old house in Suzhou is going to be torn down, Nancy looks for a way to make her grandmother feel better. She wins two goldfish in a ball-tossing game, and decides to make a pond for them in the backyard to remind her grandmother of the fishpond in the courtyard of the house in Suzhou. Goldfish and Chrysanthemums is the tender story of the special love between grandchildren and grandparents.
Ni Ni describes her father’s fishpond to Nancy, who teaches her grandmother the English word for the flowers that grew around the pond and also grow in the next-door neighbor’s garden. "Chry-san…chry-san…the-mums," her grandmother repeats after her.
Mrs. Zalinsky, the next-door neighbor, helps Nancy dig out a root and gives her a big flowerpot to hold the water. Nancy’s brother Greg helps her find a bench and stones to make a path. When Ni Ni wants to know what the children are doing, Nancy tells her it’s a surprise. "I cover my eyes. Don’t see anything," says Ni Ni.
All the pond needs is chrysanthemums and goldfish. Mrs. Zalinsky is generous with her flowers, and Nancy and Greg plant a few clumps around the pond. When Nancy pours the fish into their new home she reports, "At first they were stunned, but after a few seconds the fish began swimming every which way."
It’s no surprise that Ni Ni loves the fishpond, but she gives Nancy and Greg a small but thoughtful surprise in return, and there the narrative ends. It’s a simple story, but it bears telling, and Andrea Cheng tells it well. Michelle Chang’s illustrations aren’t quite so successful. The colors are murky and, in a few pictures, the characters’ proportions are unsettling, with enormous heads and tiny hands. But there’s no great harm done, and Goldfish and Chrysanthemums is worth reading.