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The Asian Reporter's
BOOK REVIEWS


From The Asian Reporter, V14, #50 (December 7, 2004), page 13.

I love this book!

I Hate English!

By Ellen Levine

Illustrated by Steve BjŲrkman

Scholastic, 1989

Paperback, 30 pages, $5.99

By Josephine Bridges

Mei Mei was smart in school. In her school in Hong Kong. In Chinese." Unfortunately, Mei Mei, the plucky protagonist of this pithy and hilarious adventure in language learning, lives in New York now. Chinatown is okay, but school is awful. "In New York in school everything happened in English," a language Mei Mei, practicing her own version of nonviolent non-cooperation, refuses to speak.

Slowly, one grudging step at a time, Mei Mei begins to use English when there is no other choice. She writes a letter to a friend in Chinese, but she has to address the letter in English. "Silly post office in New York! she thought. Why canít they read Chinese?"

When a teacher named Nancy comes to the Chinatown Learning Center to help Mei Mei with English, Mei Mei is afraid. "She wouldnít speak a word in English or Chinese." Nancy reads a story that Mei Mei thinks is interesting, "even if it was in English," but she begins to cry when she doesnít understand some of the words. Later, Mei Mei feels afraid again. "She felt she might lose something. She felt she had lost something." And she has a terrible dream of forgetting who she is.

When Mei Mei tells Nancy, "I donít care!" in English the next day, the teacher replies, "Very good! I knew you could speak English." She goes on to tell Mei Mei that she doesnít think Mei Mei really wants to learn, and that this is too bad. "Donít you want to talk with me? I want to talk with you."

"Iím sorry," Mei Mei says, and Nancy jumps up and tells Mei Mei to get her coat, because theyíre going for a walk. During the walk, Nancy takes the kind of chance that good and dedicated teachers sometimes take when they think the moment is right, but if you want to know what Mei Mei does, youíll just have to read I Hate English!

Steve Bjorkmanís spirited illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to Ellen Levineís terrific writing. Itís a joy to watch the changing expressions on Mei Meiís face. Learning a new language is a deeply emotional experience, and in its words and pictures I Hate English! honors all those emotions, as well as all the fine teachers and students who persevere. I love this book!

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books

  Amazon