Written by Marie Tang
Illustrated by Jieting Chen
(Beaming Books; $18.99, Ages 3-8)
In Yuna’s Cardboard Castles, the heartwarming picture book debut from author Marie Tang, illustrated by Jieting Chen, readers meet Yuna, who has just moved with her family to America from Japan. Like most children in that situation, Yuna is filled with concerns about what life will be like in her new home and how she’ll make new friends. The extra challenge Yuna faces is that she doesn’t speak English yet. While she misses her old friends and all that is familiar, Yuna is eager to find a way to connect with local kids.
It’s great to see Yuna take the initiative to look for ways to break the ice with the children in her neighborhood. At first, she tries making balls out of colorful paper. The results are lovely and impressive, highlighting her skills. However, Yuna feels discouraged after noticing children already have balls to play with. Onto the next option.
Thinking about where she used to live, Yuna longs to reproduce that environment where there were pointy buildings and rice cake stands. She cleverly uses cardboard and scissors to construct her very own stand but she’s at a loss to find the words to explain her project and the food on display. So, the neighborhood kids return “back to their tea parties.”
And though with her talent, Yuna can build almost anything she wants, she still feels the disconnect without the language to communicate. She is sad, frustrated, and isolated.
When a boy’s kite gets tangled in her yard, the two soon find common ground with their paper creations. Teaming up, their imaginations soar, and playing together becomes second nature. Soon, the neighborhood kids can’t help but engage with Yuna and the exciting cardboard world she’s constructed with her new friend. Chen’s vivid illustrations convey energy, enjoyment, and make-believe, filling each page with wonder to inspire children as they read Tang’s thoughtful story.
When my family lived overseas for 10 years, our children played with other children from around the world whether we traveled to Germany, France, the Canary Islands, Italy, or Greece. Watching kids connect despite not having the words is always joyful to watch. Play is a universal language bringing diverse children together wherever you are. Yuna’s Cardboard Castles was inspired by Tang’s childhood experience of moving from Hong Kong to the United States. In the book, Yuna demonstrates how, just as Tang did as a child, using origami and corrugated boxes can open up worlds of opportunities for friendship when you have only a minimal grasp of your new country’s language. While the immigration experience is different for every child, Tang’s book creatively captures the emotion Yuna feels while presenting a positive way to cope that is empowering. Four pages of backmatter include detailed instructions to make an origami boat … “that can actually float!”
- Reviewed by Ronna Mandel