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Let me introduce you to a modern-day Ramona. I have totally fallen for the quirky, honest, ambitious Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan.

The Story

Cilla Lee-Jenkins is certain that she is destined for literary greatness. What she’s not so certain about is the new baby in her mother’s tummy, which she has named The Blob. It’s hard to sum this book up, but it’s primarily about Cilla learning who she is in relation to her family. With white Grandma and Grandpa and Chinese Nai Nai and Ye Ye, Cilla feels pulled between two cultures and two sets of grandparents who tend to avoid each other. Ultimately, it’s love for Cilla that brings her family together, and it’s Cilla’s identification with the new baby as the only other Lee-Jenkins that bonds her with her new sister. There is so much more to this story, but that’s the heart of it.

What I Loved About This Book

  • Future Author–Of course I love that Cilla wants to be an author. The whole story is her autobiography for when she grows up to be famous. But even though she has a way with words, sometimes speaking out is a lot harder for Cilla than writing.
  • Growing Up Astride Two-Cultures–I loved how this book addressed both the beauty as well as the trials of growing up bi-cultural. I don’t see enough books like this, and the subject is extremely relatable to so many children, even within my own family.
  • A Modern Ramona–Cilla has all the personality and charm to become as beloved as Romona, in my opinion. Kids don’t have to be from a bi-cultural home to enjoy this book. I hope we see more of Cilla Lee-Jenkins in the future.

Parents Should Know

  • Be prepared for conversations about race and racism. The racist questions Cilla encounters may slide right by your child, as they do Cilla, but they are there. Cilla feels there is something wrong with these questions (i.e. “What are you?”), but she’s naive about what it is. Your own child’s age, understanding, and experience can guide you in conversations about this topic, or you can let the book soak in on its own.

Favorite Quote

“And real families don’t look like that. Real families don’t have grandparents who stand as far away from each other as possible, in photos and when you draw them.”

I’d highly recommend Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Author Extraordinaire for any kid ready to read longer chapter books. Bi-racial/bi-cultural kids will especially identify with Cilla as well as kids expecting a new sibling.

Do you have a favorite chapter book that tackles big issues?

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