Lissy (pronounced “lee-she” according to Lin’s website) is a little girl who is new in school. She doesn’t have any friends. No one talks to her or sits with her at lunch. Since she has no one to talk to she finishes her lunch quickly and folds the paper menu into an Origami crane and names it “Menu”. To her surprise and delight, Menu blinks at her and flutters his paper wings to fly into her pocket. Lissy happily makes dozens more friends and takes them everywhere with her. She isn’t lonely anymore. One day she takes her paper friends to the playground and whirls them around the merry-go-round. A gust of wind comes and whisks them up into the air… and away they go! Lissy sits down to cry until another girl comes up and says “Hey, is this yours?” She is holding Menu! The smiling girl becomes her first new human friend, soon to be followed with all the other neighborhood children as Lissy shows them how to make Origami animals. On the last page is a postcard from the rest of the animal friends with a picture of them having tea at a sidewalk café in Paris. They say,
“We are having fun traveling the world. We miss you!
PS Tell Menu Hello!
This is a very sweet story that I am sure every child who has ever been in a new environment will appreciate and enjoy. I changed school often as a child and I know exactly how Lissy feels. I used to pretend my balloons were my friends as they followed me down the street bobbing at my shoulder. I love how Lissy’s paper friends all have wide open eyes looking at her and what she is doing on every page. It is clear they are devoted to her as the center of their world; a perspective consistent with the way children think. Everything in Lin’s artwork is made from Origami paper; so the sky, the floors, the wallpaper, the furniture, and everyone’s clothing follows the theme of a fantasy world meeting Lissy’s real world.
Another thing I really like about this book is that although Lissy is clearly Asian, the story is not about being Asian. There is no reference to her ethnicity, which puts her Asian identity squarely in the realm of ordinary. We can assume she is Chinese if we know Grace Lin writes about Chinese kids in America, but she could also easily be Japanese or Korean or something else… There are children of every skin tone in her world and nothing particularly remarkable about it, although I also notice there are no other obviously Asian kids. That she knows how to fold a paper crane might be a special quality of her Asian identity, but soon all the other children want to learn how to fold paper animals as well and she easily teaches them. It’s nice to see a story where an individual child finds a creative way to express and address her feelings of loneliness that capitalizes on her unique abilities and at the same time attracts friends who admire her and want to share her play. That’s a good story for everyone. Remember to look for this book coming out in mid-May and get a hold of your own copy!