A few weeks ago, while going through an amazing stockpile of books sent to me last year by publishers to consider for the Amelia Bloomer Project, I spotted a lovely gem: an early chapter book written by Jenny Han. As a fan of her Summer trilogy (YA), I was super excited to read Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream. Jenny did not disappoint – I was completely captivated by little Clara Lee and her mission to become Little Miss Apple Pie.
Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han. Illus. by Julia Kuo
Released: January 2011
Publisher: Little Brown for Young Readers
Grade Level: 1-4
In case you’re wondering, I’m not making any apple pies…
Third grader, Clara Lee is incredibly excited about the town of Bramley’s upcoming Apple Blossom Festival, with its apple bobbing, candy apples, apple dessert contest, and the town parade. But the most important part of all is Miss and Little Miss Apple Pie, where one high school student and one elementary school student are chosen to represent the town in the parade. “Miss Apple Pie is pretty much a dream come true…You wear a red sash and a tiara with little red apples on top. You wave, and you throw apple candy at the crowd. Little Miss Apple Pie gets to stand next to her..[and] wear a sash too, and a tiara…” (Pg. 13)
Despite its title, the main charm of this book isn’t the Little Miss Apple Pie pageant, but rather Clara’s interactions with her friends and family, and the way she deals with balancing her Korean identity with her American one. Clara is determined to win the Little Miss Apple Pie contest and even has her winning outfit planned out. “If I won, I knew just what I would wear. The dress Grandpa bought me in Korea…It’s Korean style, with a skirt the color fruit punch and a white jacket with rainbow-striped sleeves, and best of all, a long bow.” (Pg. 14) Unfortunately, Clara hates making speeches, and making a big one in front of the school is part of the contest rules. One night, Clara has an awful dream about her grandfather (with whom she’s very close) that leaves her shaken. But according to her grandfather, in Korean culture, dreams involving death portend good luck, and Clara’s is about to change! And sure enough, Clara begins experiencing an upswing–she conquers the dreaded rope climbing exercise in P.E., her friend Max shares his cookies with her (unusual because he’s not a sharer), and a secret admirer leaves a candy necklace in her desk.
Even though “luck” is now on Clara’s side, she still contends with everyday issues, such as trying to get along with her younger sister, Emmeline, dealing with a friendship rift, and trying to prove that she’s just as American as anyone else. When fellow rival, Dionne Gregory implies that Clara isn’t American enough to be Little Miss Apple Pie, Clara feels saddened and confused. “Wasn’t my family as American as apple pie, too? Grandpa came from Korea, but both my mom and dad were born in America, just like me. I deserved to have a shot at Little Miss Apple Pie as much as Dionne did. Didn’t I?” (Pg. 80) Han handles Clara’s dilemma with sensitivity, and simple, clear language that conveys the feeling of being Othered. With her family and friends rallying for her, Clara realizes that she’s just as much of a contender for the pageant title as anyone. Her touching speech about interconnectedness and the sense of community in Bramley certainly won me over! I won’t tell you what happens, but the ending was definitely satisfying, like a slice of warm apple pie with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream! For readalikes, please check out Grace Lin’s Year of the Dog and Maria G. Lee’s F is for Fabuloso.
Copy kindly provided by Little, Brown.