Maizy Chen’s Last Chance: A Practice Discussion
Although the Newbery Committee will meet at the end of January 2023, to choose the most distinguished books for children published in the United States in 2022, the full Committee has already “gathered” twice (either digitally or in person) in 2022: once at LibLearnX to meet each other and be briefed of what to expect for their year-long service, and once during the ALA Annual Conference in June. At the June meeting, there is usually a chance to practice discussing a few books.
Here at Heavy Medal, we are also going to offer the opportunity for a practice discussion today about MAIZY CHEN’S LAST CHANCE by Lisa Yee. This title received five Heavy Medal nominations but did not make our final book list. It is not eligible for voting but will help us practice discussing! (And of course I have to say that Merci Suarez Changes Gears was the practice title in 2018 and then went on to win the medal).
On the real Newbery Committee, members discuss each of the nominated books (minus any that may have been withdrawn by consensus), starting with an introduction by one committee member. We’ll follow that model in written form and then open it up to discussion.
MAIZY CHEN’S LAST CHANCE by Lisa Yee depicts an 11-year old Chinese American girl’s summer at her grandparents in the small town of Last Chance. Through honest and heartwarming narration, vivid descriptions, and relatable characters- Yee takes readers on a journey in Maizy Chen’s brain. Strong in all six Newbery criteria, delineation of characters setting stand out the most.
We are introduced to a wide cast of characters with varying personal struggles and quirks. Viewing everything from Maizy’s optimistic and opportunistic eyes made it even more delightful. I appreciated the struggles of friendship with Maizy’s grandfather (Opa) and Walker, the progression of Maizy’s mom and Oma, the deeper meaning behind the Lady (Mac)Beth’s actions, and the layers behind Caroline and the other “bullies.”
Mom and Oma are always arguing about the little things, like the way my mother stacks the menus or that my grandmother saves piles of unread magazines. No one talks about the time my grandparents came to the TV commercial set and left without even speaking to my mother. The strain between them is as thick as jook, the Chinese rice porridge Opa has for breakfast.Chapter 17
Setting is also an integral part to this story, starting with the poignant name of LaSt Chance, which shows how much (and how little) the town has to offer- for Lucky, for Principal Holmes, for the Paper Sons in the photos… The recurring themes of the town being featured in Minnesota Don’t You Know, and how racism and bigotry exist there and anywhere may seem overdone, but I think they do not seem too forced. The Lucky stories also seamlessly connect the reader from present to past.
There’s much more I can expand on here but I’ll leave room in the comments for what everyone else has to say.
Heavy Medal Award Committee members and others are now invited to discuss this book further in the Comments section below. Please start with positive observations first; stick to positives until at least three comments have been posted or we reach 1:00 pm EST. Let the Mock Newbery discussion begin!
About Emily Mroczek-Bayci
Emily Mroczek (Bayci) is a freelance children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs. She served on the 2019 Newbery committee. You can reach her at email@example.com.
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