Note From Miss Sherry:
I just finished Beautiful Country. In Chinese, the word for America, Mei Guo, translates directly to “beautiful country.” Qian Wang arrived in the United States in 1994 at 7 years old. I was graduating High School in 1994. At first, I did not know if that made me seem old or Qian very young. Reflectively after reading this beautifully articulated story I realize that it just makes it current and relevant and present. This memoir is not a tale told about our ancestors hundreds of years ago. It is not an Ellis Island immigration story, it’s now. It is America today. First, I want to tell you I met Qian Julie Wang and meeting her 100% influenced my take on this book. I heard her speak at a conference full of librarians and she was a champion for the library. She absolutely believes in the power of books and supports libraries. For that I loved her. I had started and realized meeting her influenced my critic of the book. (Also, why do I always feel I have to critic a book? ) I set this book a side and recently came back to it. I LOVE IT. Before we go any further though… on her website she has a Spotify playlist. Qian’s Playlist
#GameChanger the list is my jam! Again, I graduated in 1994 so hey!!!!!
This story is one in which you are put in to the shoes of an undocumented child living in America. An undocumented child living in America. This is not a story of the horrors of communism and tragedies of foreign governments. This is a real-life, present day memoir of someone’s life, right here.
We hear immigration and think of Ellis Island and the history our country is built on. Tragically, the more modern thoughts immediately drift to the southern border and we dive into a million and one thoughts, many spurring conflict. I think often immigration stories are not what we think. Often behind that tragic image of a mother sneaking her child into the United States is a very heart wrenching nightmare. This is memoir is not about the why or the how, it’s about the journey. Qian’s parents were professors in China. Highly, respected teachers that came to America to work in a sweatshop. Shunned by her classmates and teachers for her limited English, Qian takes refuge in, the best place to seek refuge, the library and masters the language through books, coming to think of The Berenstain Bears as her first American friends. She speaks in the book of growing up with The Babysitters Club and others. She teaches herself not just language skills, but social skills, by reading. She at a very young age found the Library as her place of refuge, but also her place to learn and thrive.
This book is so well written. Her words are magical. She gives a voice to undocumented children that has not been heard.
I put the book down for several months and recently picked it up and finished it. It is beautifully written. You cannot read this book and not close the cover without loving your librarians a bit more.
So many characters kept me company in those early years. Charlotte’s Web and The Baby-Sitters Clubtaught me the power of faith and friendship, and, across the globe from my entire extended family, I held close to my chest their lessons that as much as one was born into a family, one could also build a family united by kinship and love. And amidst that hope, the Diary of Anne Frank gave me the sense that I was not the only girl who had ever come of age in hiding. I had not been through anything as horrific as the Holocaust, of course, but the act of living in hiding and with the need to conceal a core truth about one’s identity resonated deeply. It was then that it occurred to me that maybe I was not quite as alone as I felt everyday. Anne Frank’s honest, raw reflections also alerted me to the importance of not just reading books but of weaving our own narrative, particularly because my story was not often reflected in books at the time.
This power of narrative found echoes in Harriet the Spy, which inspired me to jot down all the little, mundane details of my day in hopes of solving a major mystery. What’s more, Harriet, like Jonas from The Giver, validated my experience as a kid who experienced the world a little differently from everyone else, and as someone who could not help but see (and unsee) certain parts of our world. Altogether, these beloved books gave me a sense of safety, companionship, and home at a time when I needed it most.
Take some time and read this articulately and elegantly written story of a young girls journey in America.