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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 — provides a brief biography of the author.
  • Interview with Bette Bao Lord — As part of the exhibition Fabulous! Portraits by Michele Mattei at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the artist interviewed her portrait subjects, including Lord, as she photographed them.
  • Interview and Lecture — This encyclopedia page includes video clips of an interview with Lord and a lecture she presented at Ball State University in 1992.
  • 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.
  • Book Review — This page provides a review of In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by a graduate student in education.

Learn More About the Setting of the Novel

  • Chongqing, China — Encyclopedia Britannica explores the geography, people, economy, government, cultural life, and history of this ancient city, previously known as Chungking. The Seattle-Chongqing Sister City Association also provides some interesting facts about the city.
  • The Chinese Calendar — What exactly is the Year of the Boar? This site offers a thorough examination of the Chinese calendar, including its history, correlation to the Gregorian calendar, specific details about the way it works, and information about early calendars.
  • Atlas Obscura: Brooklyn — This site highlights a large number of well-known and lesser-known places to visit in Brooklyn, providing a well-researched article with photos for each one.
  • Brooklyn Home Page — Visitors can take a brief, enthusiastically conducted tour of present-day Brooklyn and explore highlights of various neighborhoods.
  • Brooklyn Historical Society — The Brooklyn Historical Society preserves the history of this vibrant and storied neighborhood. See especially the site’s online exhibitions.

Investigate the Cultural Background of the Main Character

  • Families in China — This site provides an informative look at the structure of the Chinese family, including gender roles and extended families.
  • History of China — provides a detailed history of China, from prehistory to the present day. A history of ancient China (through the rise of the Song dynasty) can be found at the Ancient History Encyclopedia site.
  • Chinese Holidays — The Travel China Guide outlines the important holidays and festivals in China, including the Lunar New Year and the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Each is described with illustrations, photographs, and details. There are several articles about mooncakes, including recipes and a timeline of mooncake history.
  • Traditions and Customs — The Travel China Guide gives an overview of Chinese beliefs, customs, and etiquette. These include festivals, traditional food, the Chinese zodiac, and more.

Find Out More About Historical Figures and Events in the Novel

  • U.S. Immigration Station — Visitors to this site learn about the experiences of Chinese immigrants as they waited, sometimes for months, at the Angel Island detention center before being processed. The poetry inscribed on the walls by immigrants is featured in the text. The main page for the Angel Island Conservancy site offers more information about the island’s history.
  • AIISF Curriculum Guides — The Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation offers classroom activities on a range of topics related to Angel Island.
  • Jackie Robinson — Shirley Wong’s hero, Jackie Robinson, is the legendary baseball player who broke the color barrier. This official website offers a biography of Robinson, information about his achievements and awards, and a photo gallery.
  • Brooklyn Dodgers — Visitors to this site can access information about the Brooklyn Dodgers and their charismatic players, including Jackie Robinson, as well as view a timeline of key events in the team’s history.
  • Brooklyn Dodgers Timeline — The World History Project invites users to contribute sourced content on historical topics. This page links to articles about the history of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

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 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 inevitably 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.