Monday, January 23, 2017

Making Friends with Billy Wong

It is no secret that I often use Twitter to learn what is going on in the school library world.  One day this winter, I logged in to Twitter to find that Augusta Scattergood was giving away a few copies of the audiobook version of her newest title, Making Friends with Billy Wong.  I was THRILLED to receive a copy of this audiobook in the mail from Ms. Scattergood just a short time later!  Free books always make for a happy librarian.

The audiobook Making Friends with Billy Wong by Augusta Scattergood

Augusta Scattergood has many fans at Pioneer Middle School.  All fifth grade students read Glory Be, another one of her books.  Last year, Mrs. Rice's students took their learning a step further by creating book trailers centered upon the book.  These trailers caught the eye of Ms. Scattergood, who graciously agreed to Skype with our enthusiastic fifth graders. 

Needless to say, I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of Making Friends with Billy Wong.  This book did not disappoint!  Much like Glory Be, this selection has heart and humor, all while tackling difficult topics in a gentle and age-appropriate way.

This story centered upon young Azalea, a girl who was sent to care for her Grandmother Clark for the summer.  The summer arrangement gets off to a rocky start because Azalea doesn't know her grandmother well. Azalea also would rather be back with her parents in Texas instead of in the little town of Paris Junction, Arkansas.

Azalea soon meets other children in Paris Junction--a prissy girl, a bully, and Billy Wong, whose family owns the Lucky Foods grocery store in town.  Throughout the story, large topics such as bullying, civil rights, discrimination, poverty, family relationships, and friendships are deftly covered.  Like all of Augusta Scattergood's works, this title addresses tough subjects in a way that will be appealing to younger readers.  Above all, themes of kindness and understanding emerge as main takeaways from this lovely book.

This historical fiction story also introduced me to a portion of our nation's history of which I was not previously aware.  During the late 1940s through the early 1960s, hundreds of Chinese grocery stores flourished within the southern United States.  These stores served a vital need within southern communities, as Chinese grocers stepped in as old plantation commissary stores ceased to exist.  In Making Friends with Billy Wong, Billy's parents own a Chinese grocery store.  Their experiences within the story mirror many of the struggles and triumphs that these grocers and their families would have experienced in the past.

Although the book on its own would still be an amazing read, the audiobook version added richness and depth to the story.  The voices of Azalea and Billy were spot-on and really transported me to the American South in the 1950s (even as I listened to the book in my car near snowy Buffalo, NY!).

There is so much more that I want to say about this book, but I don't want to spoil any surprises.  Making Friends with Billy Wong is sure to be a hit with middle school audiences.  In fact, the book has already been checked out multiple times here at Pioneer Middle School.  Thank you to Augusta Scattergood for generously providing us with a free audiobook copy!

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