The Red Thread
by Grace Lin
Albert Whitman & Company
For those who don't follow blogs much, Grace Lin is the darling of the kidlitosphere, with a reputation for being one of the kindest people in a field already chock-a-block with gentle souls. Really, what mean person ever wrote for little kids?
Lin often draws on her own life as a Taiwanese-American, offering glimpses into the struggle to straddle two cultures, and she always manages a certain, well, grace to her spare prose and illustrations.
She recently lost her husband to cancer, and many bloggers -- myself included -- are taking up a fundraising cause in his memory. I say this in the interest of full disclosure, though Grace and I aren't personally acquainted.
Throat-clearing aside, this is a more melancholy story of longing and sacrifice than I might've expected, so prepare your heartstrings for some gentle tugging before a well-earned Happily Ever After. The story takes its name from a Chinese legend that a red thread binds all those who are destined to be together.
When a medieval king and queen feel pain in their hearts, really more of a pang, a magic pair of spectacles reveals this thread. They're forced to follow it across a frozen countryside, untangling it from branches and spooling it as they cross the ocean to China and a waiting baby girl.
Lin makes the parable to modern-day adoptions plain with opening and closing scenes showing a Chinese-American girl asking her Anglo parents to read her favorite story (this book, of course). At the end, they're also wearing toy crowns. I'd almost argue that this framing device wasn't necessary, except that I know Lin's natural empathy for families and her gift for portraying their dynamics with great optimism and affection.
The biggest achievement, however, is that the fairy tale format takes a difficult subject -- what is adoption, why do people adopt -- and makes it vivid and somehow more real, where a factual explanation would fall flat.