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In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson

by Bette Bao Lord

The Book Club Novel Guide outlines a complete theme-based unit with Book Club lesson plans focusing on In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson.

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Below you will find a synopsis, further reading materials, discussion topics, and reviews that you might find useful during your teaching of In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson.

A Synopsis

It is 1947, and Bandit’s father has sent for Bandit and her mother to join him in New York City. All her life, Bandit has lived with her many relatives in the clan’s compound in Chungking, China. Although she is sad to leave them, she is also excited about going to America. At the New Year’s celebration, Bandit chooses her new American name: Shirley Temple Wong.

When Shirley and her mother arrive in New York, Shirley’s father proudly takes them to their new home, a tiny apartment in Brooklyn. Shirley’s difficulties with English and her foreign mannerisms tend to alienate her from her classmates. She is saved from her loneliness when she befriends Mabel, the scariest girl in the fifth grade. Mabel includes Shirley in a stickball game and christens her “Jackie Robinson.” Shirley spends her summer devotedly listening to Brooklyn Dodgers games on the radio.

As the new school year approaches, Shirley has a disturbing dream that suggests she is drifting away from her family in China. She and her parents are so busy with their new lives that they forget to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. Several days after the fact, they eat moon cakes and recall a traditional story about the joys and pains of leaving home.

Shirley’s first year in America ends memorably when Jackie Robinson visits her school. As she beams with pride and happiness at the great man “who made a difference . . ., who changed what has been,” she remembers her old life, rejoices in her new life, and realizes that she, too, can be someone who makes a difference.

Further Reading and Links

The following sites can be used to support and enrich the Book Club unit for In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord.

About the Author and the Book

  • Bette Bao Lord — Gale Cengage Learning provides a thorough biography of the author.
  • Interview with Bette Bao Lord — This site of the National Museum of Women in the Arts' exhibition Fabulous! Portraits by Michele Mattei. Michele Mattei interviewed her portrait subjects as she was photographing them.
  • Legacies: A Chinese Mosaic — C-SPAN2 and Booknotes present an interview with Bette Bao Lord who speaks of the culture and history of her native China.
  • A Review — This site provides two different reviews of In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bonny Causutt and Terri Viken.

Learn More About the Setting of the Novel

  • Chongqing — At this site, Seattle, Chongqing's sister city, provides some photographs of important landmarks and brief but interesting facts about the city, previously known as Chungking.
  • Chinese Calendar — A factual and thorough examination of the Chinese calendar, including its history, correlation to the Gregorian calendar, specific details about the way it works, and information about the early calendars, is offered here.
  • Brooklyn Homepage — Visitors can take an enthusiastically conducted tour of present-day Brooklyn and read about and see highlights of the different neighborhoods.
  • Brooklyn Timeline — The Brooklyn Historical Society created this timeline, which consists of dates and brief notes about significant events. It shows the varied and full history of this section of New York City.

Investigate the Cultural Background of the Main Character

  • Chinese the Beautiful — This index page offers myriad topics to explore. Visitors can choose to hear or see or read about the Chinese language, art, literature, and other aspects of Chinese culture. It is a very dense and comprehensive site, well worth a visit.
  • Family Structure — This site provides an informative look at the clan structure of the Chinese family, the roles of the different family members, and the influence of this relationship on all aspects of life.
  • History of China — Compiled from Compton's Encyclopedia, the materials at this site trace the history of China from its beginnings through the dynasties and into the present era. The overview also includes discussion of the roles of significant historical figures, such as Marco Polo and Kublai Khan.
  • Chinese Holidays — At this site the important holidays and festivals, including the Lunar New Year and the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, are described with illustrations, photographs, and details. There is even a photograph of moon cakes, as well as a detailed explanation of what they are.
  • Chinese Beliefs — This site provides a quick look at some interesting Chinese beliefs and customs, including ideas associated with brooms, certain numbers, facial hair, and dreams.

Find Out More About Historical Figures and Events in the Novel

  • Immigration — Visitors to this site learn about the experiences of Chinese immigrants as they waited, sometimes for months, at the Angel Island detention center to be processed. One of the poems inscribed on the walls by immigrants is featured on the site.
  • Angel Island Association — An array of choices is given to visitors at this site. They can see Angel Island, find out about its history, and discover facts about the history of Chinese immigration.
  • Jackie Robinson — This website devoted to Jackie Robinson offers articles, links, and images of the legendary baseball player who broke the color barrier.
  • Brooklyn Dodgers — Visitors to this site can access information about the old Brooklyn Dodgers and their charismatic players, including Jackie Robinson, as well as view a timeline of key events in the team's history.

Big Theme Questions

How does a person respect and maintain his or her own culture while also becoming part of a new culture?

How does it feel to move to a new house, school, or community? What can a person do to fit in?

How do people identify their own strengths and special talents?

How do various cultures blend together to make a strong, diverse community?

Outline of Lesson Plan | Discussion Topics | Writing Prompts

The following section can be used to get discussions started in your classroom. It is based on the Lesson Plan within the Book Club Novel Guide for In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. The Lesson Plan includes blackline masters for the students that support the writing prompts. The writing prompts provided are meant as suggestions only. As students become more comfortable with the Book Club format, they will certainly have ideas and questions that go beyond the prompts. Consider giving students “free choice” as a log option. Book Club Reading Logs help students respond to literature and organize ideas as they participate in Book Club.


January | Language Conventions: Reading Log Entries

  • Why is Bandit summoned by her grandmother? How does she prepare for the visit? Why?
  • How does Bandit feel about leaving China for America? Why do you think she feels this way?
  • Bandit’s clan name is Sixth Cousin. If you had to select such a name for yourself, what would it be? Explain your reasons.

February | Language Conventions: Questions for Book Club Discussions

  • Using a Venn diagram, compare and contrast Shirley’s Chinese culture with what she encounters in America.
  • Write down three good questions that you have about the events, characters, or other elements of today’s reading.
  • Construct a character map for one of the characters in the story.
  • Think about what happens to Shirley in her new home. Write about something that happened to you that reminds you of Shirley’s experiences.

March | Response to Literature: Personal Response to Characters

  • What do you think the title of this chapter means? Why?
  • Describe your first day of school this year. How was it similar to or different from Shirley’s first day?

April | Literary Elements: Characterization

  • Record details about Shirley’s character.
  • What is meant by the line “Day by day, week by week, little by little Shirley shrank until she was no more”? Have you ever had that feeling?
  • How is Señora Rodriguez different from Shirley’s first impression of her?

May | Comprehension: Making Connections

  • Shirley is having difficulty learning English. Give some specific examples from the book that show her difficulties. Explain how the examples help Shirley fit into her new environment or hinder her from doing so.
  • Briefly summarize Grandfather’s story of Wispy Whiskers. Why do you think the author included this story in the novel?

June | Literary Elements: Extended Metaphor

  • Describe the setting of the story. Include any additional information you know about this time period.
  • Summarize the speech Mrs. Rappaport gives at the end of this chapter. What metaphor is it built around? What impact does it have on Shirley?

July | Composition: Letter Writing

  • Pretend you are Shirley and write a letter to Fourth Cousin, telling her about your new life in America.
  • Predict what you think the rest of the story will be about. Do you think Shirley will eventually fit in? Why?
  • Add details to your character chart of Shirley. What does her response to Señora Rodriguez reveal about her?

August | Literary Elements: Point of View

  • What does the chapter’s title mean? Support your answer with details from the book.
  • Why do you think the author chose third-person point of view for her story?
  • Find several examples of imagery, simile, and personification in this chapter and explain how they enhance the mood.

September | Comprehension: Chapter Titles

  • Tell about Shirley’s new friend and their developing relationship. How is this like or unlike relationships you have with your friends? What does this relationship have to do with the title of this chapter?
  • What is the significance of Shirley’s dream about China?

October | Literary Elements: Plot

  • Does the climax of the story occur in this chapter? Give evidence to support your opinion.
  • The mood of the last paragraph in this chapter is noticeably sad. What has happened to cause this change?
  • Connect the content of this chapter to what you know about baseball. You may do this by drawing a picture, by making a chart or table, or by writing.

November | Comprehension: Visualizing

  • Illustrate the scene described in the first paragraph of this chapter.
  • How does this chapter show the cultural change that is happening to the Wong family?
  • Summarize the story of the filial daughter. Why do you think Bette Bao Lord included it in this novel?

December | Response to Literature: Evaluating Story Elements

  • In the second paragraph of this chapter, there are two words in italics. What do they mean? How do you know?
  • Evaluate the speech given by Jackie Robinson in this chapter.
  • How do you feel now that the story has concluded? Write a personal response describing your feelings.