For the second year in a row, no rain fell on Jo Lee’s village. The rice ponds dried up and cracked wide open. The sweet-potato vines shriveled and died. Only the orange trees clung to life.
So begins this beautiful children’s book, written in 2001 by national book award finalist Elizabeth Partridge, and illustrated by Aki Sogabe with stunning paintings and paper cuts. The lyrical tale follows a young boy from his mother’s traditional Chinese village to California (Golden Mountain) to stay with Fourth Uncle when drought comes.
It’s a tender story of family devotion, and the immigrant journey of planting roots in new soil. Jo Lee’s mother sends him off with a dozen branches of her orange trees. He tends them above the shrimp-fishing camp where he and his uncle work tirelessly around the San Francisco Bay. When the first blossoms appear, Jo Lee sends his dream spirit, or Hun, to whisper on the wind and change his mother’s bad fortune.
In the afterword, Partridge writes: “The Hun gives the capacity to dream, be courageous, and find a sense of direction in life. The early pioneers to California, who came from all parts of the world, needed strong dream spirits to overcome the difficulties of starting new lives far from home.”
Partridge, an acupuncturist, visited China Camp State Park and “wondered what it had been like to live right on the edge of the water, where the waves lap at the shore and the sun shines through moisture laden air.” To learn more about the author and the extensive historic research she did for the book, go to her website here.