Only One Year is indeed a simple book in many ways; it’s under 95 pages with multiple full page illustrations, the characters are simply drawn and most are members of one family, and the scenes seem more like vignettes rather than chapters. On the other hand, Andrea Cheng’s simple little standalone covers a topic unfamiliar to me that was almost heartbreaking for a parent to read about.
Sharon’s father is an architect and her mother works at the local junior high during the school year, which means that no one will be home to take care of her two-year-old brother, Di Di. Rather than pay for a babysitter or daycare, Sharon’s mother takes him to China to be with their grandparents and other extended family, so that he will be with loving relatives rather then paid strangers. At first, Sharon and her younger sister Mary pore over the pictures that Nai Nai sends, but as the months pass, their own lives continue on without their little brother. At the end of the school year, however, Nai Nai brings Di Di home–and there is an adjustment period for everyone.
I loved Andrea Cheng’s The Year of… series, and Only One Year has many of the same characteristics; real issues dealt with in a skillful, age-appropriate way, a Chinese-American family, and illustrations that enhance the reading experience (although I vastly prefer Patrice Barton’s illustrations to Nicole Wong’s). It’s shorter, however, and while the impact is there, I’m too old of a reader not to want more anyway (who doesn’t want more of a good thing?). On the other hand, shorter means less intimidating to newer readers, and I’m excited to have this as an option when my younger children hit that stage. Everything I’ve read by Cheng so far is well worth your time!