A Chinatown-inspired reading list

Hello, friends! I’m posting about our recent visit to Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood over on Well Traveled Kids today. Check out that post for our experiences and a suggested itinerary for a family trip there. (Welcome, if you’ve hopped over from that site! We’re glad you stopped by!) IMGP5839 We’re very lucky to have met several families this school year with adopted children from China. Our trip to visit Chinatown was actually inspired by one of the moms I know who told me she takes her daughters there frequently. It seems crazy that I’ve never visited Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood, but, indeed, I had not. So we cooked up a scheme with some families to visit one weekend. The trip details are all over at the Well Traveled Kids site.

However, after we returned from our visit, I found myself wondering what books and resources would be interesting for my kids to read and maybe help them soak in a bit more about Chinese culture. I don’t know about you, but there’s a small window of time after a visit somewhere when the kids are dying to know more. So often I find myself without much to go on… but this time I had an ace in my pocket. IMGP5891 Enter Maia.

As I mentioned before, our lives have been changed for the better this year because we’ve built relationships with lots of new families. A family who helped organize our visit to Chinatown has three adopted Chinese daughters, Maia (age 12), Maddie and Meili (both age 6). When I started wondering what books I could perhaps read with my kids, I realized I was going to have go to the boss… I called Maia.

Here are the recommendations on some favorite books from Maia and her sisters. There is a world of literature out there that would be fun to explore, so consider this a starting point.

Fiction – Grades 3 and up IMGP6037 Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. The story of a girl named Minli who lives with her poor family near Fruitless Mountain. Minli is entertained and inspired by her father’s wonderful stories. With the help of a dragon and other fantastic creatures, she heads on an amazing journey to change her family’s fortune.

Dumpling Days by Grace Lin. This book tells the story of a young girl named Pacy and her family’s month-long visit to her parent’s homeland of Taiwan. She doesn’t speak the language nor understand the customs in Taiwan. It’s a challenging adjustment, as she navigates feeling out of place in both worlds, but she learns to appreciate and love her homeland also. The sweet book is interspersed with Chinese stories and folk tales. This is one of several books by the author featuring this same main character Pacy Lin.

Read Aloud or 2nd Grade and under IMGP6040 The Seven Chinese Sisters by Kathy Tucker. The story of seven sisters, each with a special talent like karate or cooking or counting, who must face a dragon who has kidnapped the littlest sister. A good tale about using your wits and teamwork to face a challenge. There is also a Seven Chinese Brothers book by a different author, but same idea.

Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin. A beautiful picture book that follows a family as it prepares for Chinese New Year. Symbols, food, and customs are explained, as the bad luck from the previous year is swept away and the new year is welcomed in.

I LOVE YOU like Crazy Cakes by Rose Lewis. If you don’t cry while reading this book, your heart is made of stone. It’s written from the perspective of an American mother writing the story of how an adopted Chinese baby girl came to be her own. Helps provide good language for discussing the process of Chinese adoption.

Do you have any other resources to share? Please put more suggestions in the comments box. Happy Reading!

A Chinatown-inspired reading list

A girl and her mom… and a hotel

It isn’t easy carving out time, meaningful time, with one child. Grabbing a hot chocolate here and there, snuggles in bed, and an occasional lunch is our typical approach. Even that seems to be less frequent than we would like.

However, this weekend I got a chance to take Anna into Chicago for one night. It was an accidental event. Mike and I had originally planned for all four of us to venture in to the city and stay in a hotel and then hit a museum on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A treat for our hotel-obsessed kiddos. However, some behavior misfires on Sunday led to an abrupt reality check. It just wasn’t going to be a good scene if we all four went. One kid needed  to get a better handle on his emotions and stick closer to home. It was a rough day and I’m sure wiser people might have handled it differently, but we felt like we needed to set some boundaries and change our plans.

Mike graciously offered up that Anna and I should still go and enjoy the room. He would hang back. Suddenly, it was a girls trip. Talk about an unexpected but awesome chance for us to get away and spend time together.

We packed our backpacks and headed out to the Intercontinental Hotel on Michigan Ave. I’m not sure I’ve seen a smile so big as the one plastered across Anna’s face when we walked into the hotel lobby. The girl digs hotels.


This is the child who once wrote in her journal, “I love hotels.”

As we pulled into the hotel, I saw a Dylan’s Candy Bar nearby. When did this arrive in Chicago? The last time I saw one was in New York. But it was nice to see it on Michigan Ave. Walking into this place is the closest equivalent I can envision to entering Willy Wonka’s factory. It is bright, colorful and FULL of the good stuff.

After we dropped our bags off, we marched straight there and grabbed some sweets (and souvenirs for the boys). Tootsie Rolls and caramels for Anna. Sour patch watermelon and peach gummy rings for me. Anna stared in amazement at the sheer volume of candy in one store.

When we had procured enough sugar, we made a bee line for the hotel. A lovely pool awaited us and I’d packed our goggles and swimsuits for the occasion.



It would have been wonderful for the kids to swim and play together. However, with one kid, I really had to get in and… play. Anna is in school all day and I don’t get the chance (or make the time) to just play alone with her very often. Listening to her gab about underwater tea parties (including a fake british accent) and then recite her favorite lyrics and jokes was so incredible. Had Mike and Abe been there, we would have had a wonderful time but I would have missed that time to just absorb her funny little personality.

We took our wet towels and pool hair back to the room, threw on some clothes and headed out to grab dinner. I could smell the chlorine on our skin as we exited the elevator. Who cares? Certainly, not us.

Restaurant selfie? Why not.

We had dinner and then brought dessert back to our room. As we climbed into bed, the room had two double beds, Anna remarked that it was the first time she had slept alone in a bed in a hotel. Usually she shares with Abe. I asked her if it was nice being alone or if she missed her brother. Both, she replied. Both.

We gobbled down dessert and watched the tail end of some old Sponge Bob movie. An episode of Full House came on. Man, did we have some serious hair back then.

Then lights out.  As I fell asleep, I had such an amazing sense of gratitude that we had been able to spend this time together. It was a surprise gift.

We had breakfast and packed up for the Museum of Science and Industry. I almost canceled on that leg of the trip, but I’m glad I didn’t. Anna had such fun and it was so nice to be able to say yes to her requests rather than the long-winded negotiations that occur when two children want to head in opposite directions in a public place.


I’d love to do this again on an annual basis. It was so good for us. Good for her to just get some time with a parent alone. Good for me to absorb her with no distractions. It wasn’t long, but it was just long enough.

A girl and her mom… and a hotel

View from the top

I had been on the fence about whether to take the kids into the city today. However, next week is vacation bible school and the following week I will be finalizing the details of Abe’s birthday party. So I thought – why not?

One of summer list items is to take the kids up in the Willis (formerly Sears) tower. It’s such a popular tourist thing and yet I’ve never been myself. So we packed a lunch (not that there aren’t a million great places to eat, but  since the gluten free thing began it just seems easier) and caught the train into Chicago.
       Selfie at train station!
The Willis Tower is located at the corner of Jackson and Adams (enter on the Jackson street side). It’s very straightforward. Tickets are too pricey, in my humble opinion. Adults $19, kids $12. But our wait was hardly anything which was lucky for such a gorgeous day.
The elevator takes you up to the 103rd floor. A video inside the elevator marks your progress up in comparison to other landmarks. Now you are as high as the pyramid of Giza, now as high as the Eiffel Tower, etc.
And then you arrive. You walk around and that’s pretty much it.
Well, except for the SkyLedge.
Architects designed a plexiglass box or ledge that allows people to walk out into the “sky.” Anna was not at all sure about this but when it was our turn, she shocked me by laying down in a superhero pose as if she was flying over the city!
That kid.
All in all it was a simple , but fun outing. I’m so happy the kids are old enough to do this sort of thing. Summer is looking good.
Previously posted elsewhere on our family blog on Friday, June 13, 2014
View from the top