Review of The Legend of Auntie Po

The Legend of Auntie Po
by Shing Yin Khor; illus. by the author
Middle School    Kokila/Penguin    304 pp.    g
6/21    978-0-525-55488-2    $22.99
Paper ed.  978-0-525-55489-9    $12.99
e-book ed.  978-0-525-55490-5    $8.99

In this graphic novel, thirteen-year-old Mei Hao shares her homemade pies and homespun tales about the eponymous Auntie Po (a Chinese Paul Bunyan–type figure of Mei’s own creation) with her white best friend Beatrice Andersen and many other eager listeners at Mr. Andersen’s 1885 Sierra Nevada logging camp. Mei works hard to help her father cook for the camp’s lumberjacks, plus separate meals for the Chinese workers, who aren’t given board or allowed to eat with the others. But she dreams of a day when she and Bee can open a hybrid bookstore–pie shop together, even as she realizes that dream — and her unrequited love for Bee — may well be impossible. While Khor’s pencils are digital, the rawness and unpredictability of their hand-painted watercolors complement Mei’s fluctuating emotions and the harsh life at the camp, where incidents of racism and logging accidents can occur, both devastating. Khor frequently uses the whole page for their illustrations and works outside of panels, techniques that aptly enhance the historical and mythic scope of the ­narrative and that ultimately affirm Mei as the author of her own ­destiny. A multifaceted addition to the historical graphic novel genre, this unique bildungsroman successfully presents many formidable topics with intentional and comprehensive grace.

From the July/August 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Niki Marion

Niki Marion is the children’s outreach manager at Third Place Books in Seattle. She holds a master’s degree in children’s literature from Simmons University.

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