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From The Asian Reporter, V15, #23 (June 7, 2005), page 16.
Why we came to America
Hannah is My Name
By Belle Yang
Candlewick Press, 2004
Hardcover, 32 pages, $16.99
By Josephine Bridges
We came to America by airplane over the ocean, and we want to stay and make this country our home. But it is not easy to become an American if you are not born here."
Hannah is My Name should be required reading for those of us who were born here, yet may have forgotten that it wasn’t so many generations back our forbears arrived, thrilled and apprehensive, just like Hannah and her family.
How the author managed to turn this family’s long, anxious wait to see if their application for green cards will be accepted into a riveting narrative is unequivocal magic. Belle Yang gets my highest and rarest compliment: I wish I had written this book (and illustrated it).
Among this book’s multitude of strengths are several engaging minor characters. One of them is Jewel, the manager of the family’s "first home in America," who bends the rules against children in the apartment building at 636 Bush Street, San Francisco: "‘Hmm, a little girl, huh? Well, just as long as she is quiet and doesn’t jump up and down and disturb the folks down below.’"
Belle Yang doesn’t shy away from addressing how many people waiting for green cards make ends meet in the meantime, and what the consequences can be. Hannah’s friend Janie and her family have to go back to Hong Kong when Janie’s father is caught working without a green card. "I gave Janie my bracelet. It has Hannah spelled in alphabet beads so she will remember me always. She gave me her pink rabbit’s foot."
Every illustration in Hannah is My Name is a joy. In addition to the vivid, marvelously detailed full-page paintings that accompany each page of narrative, there are also small pictures that include the family’s slippers, coins, and pot stickers. But first among equals is the illustration that accompanies a tragedy.
Hannah is in first grade at Commodore Stockton School when her teacher cries while telling the class that Martin Luther King, Jr. has just been killed. Everything else in Hannah is My Name is timeless; only this terrible day is anchored in history, and the impact is staggering. "Mr. King must have been fighting for my family to be treated kindly too," decides Hannah. "Papa and Mama say this is why we came to America."