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Cheng, Andrea 1957–

Cheng, Andrea 1957–

Personal

Born September 19, 1957, in El Paso, TX; married Jim Cheng, 1982; children: Nicholas, Jane, Ann. Education: Cornell University, B.A., 1979, M.S., 1982.

Addresses

Home—3928 Red Bud Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45229. E-mail[email protected]

Career

Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Cincinnati, OH, instructor in English as a second language and director of department, 1996–.

Awards, Honors

Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) Choice designation, 2000, and Society of School Librarians International Best Book Honor designation, 2001, both for Grandfather Counts; Young Reader selection, On the Same Page reading program (Cincinnati, OH), and Association of Jewish Librarians Notable Book of Jewish Content designation, both 2002, and Ohioana Book Award finalist in Juvenile Category, and New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age designation, both 2003, all for Marika; Parents' Choice Award, and Kansas National Education Association Recommended designation, both 2003, both for Anna the Bookbinder; Parents' Choice recommendation, 2004, for Honeysuckle House; New York Public Library 100 Best Children's Books designation, 2005, and Bank Street College Children's Book of the Year, and Asian/Pacific American Honor Award, both 2006, all for Shanghai Messenger.

Writings

Grandfather Counts, Lee & Low (New York, NY), 2000.

Marika, Front Street Books (Asheville, NC), 2002.

When the Bees Fly Home, illustrated by Joline McFadden,Tilbury House (Gardiner, ME), 2002.

Anna the Bookbinder, Walker (New York, NY), 2003.

The Key Collection, illustrated by Yangsook Choi, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2003.

Goldfish and Chrysanthemums, illustrated by Michelle Chang, Lee & Low (New York, NY), 2003.

Shanghai Messenger, illustrated by Ed Young, Lee & Low(New York, NY), 2005.

The Lace Dowry, Front Street Books (Asheville, NC),2005.

The Lemon Sisters, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss, G.P.Putnam's (New York, NY), 2006.

Eclipse, Front Street Books (Asheville, NC), 2006.

Sidelights

Given her background, that Andrea Cheng became a writer of children's books about the meeting of two cultures as well as a teacher of English as a second lan-guage is unsurprising. As the daughter of Hungarian immigrants, she grew up speaking Hungarian at home, so that her grandmother, who spoke no English, could be included in household conversations. Her eventual marriage to the son of Chinese immigrants expanded her awareness of cultural boundaries still further. In addition to her background, her children have provided Cheng with further inspiration for many of her picture books and novels, which include Goldfish and Chrysanthemums, The Key Collection, and Shanghai Messenger.

Although Cheng began submitting her work to publishers when her children were very young, it was not until 2000 that her first picture book, Grandfather Counts, was published. In the story, Helen, the eldest among her siblings, has to give up her bedroom when her grandfather comes from China to live with her family. At first she is upset and she also does not know how to connect with her grandfather, who only speaks Chinese. Soon Helen discovers that the two have something in common: her grandfather waves at the engineer of trains passing their house just like she does. Communication building begins when they start counting the train cars together, once in Chinese and once in English. Dian S. Marton, writing in School Library Journal, considered the book "an affecting and tender addition to multicultural and intergenerational literature," while Ellen Man-del commented in Booklist that "Cheng's story hints honestly at the difficulties of resettling an aged, non-English speaking relative."

When the Bees Fly Home and Anna the Bookbinder explore the lives of two young people who realize their own strengths. In the former, Jonathan discovers he can use his artistic talent to help the family beekeeping business. Helen Rosenberg, writing in Booklist, considered the tale a "moving story of a boy whose search for acceptance leads him to discover his own abilities." In the latter, Anna saves the day by applying the skills her father has taught her about binding books. Cheng "establishes ambience and key relationships in just a few opening lines," noted a critic for Publishers Weekly in a review of Anna the Bookbinder, while Elizabeth A. McNichol wrote in Childhood Education that the tale is "loving and inspiring."

With Goldfish and Chrysanthemums Cheng returns to the theme of intergenerational and intercultural relationships. Nancy and Greg's grandmother, Ni Ni, discovers that her old house in China is going to be torn down. Nancy comes up with a plan to build the distressed Ni Ni a pond for goldfish in the backyard of their house, just like the one she had in China. "Cheng's story of intergenerational connection is a sweet one," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor, and a Publishers Weekly critic cited the tale's "uplifting theme of the importance of familial ties and continuity." Ilene Cooper noted in her Booklist review that "the telling is direct, and the message about bringing happiness to those one loves is clear."

Shanghai Messenger introduces eleven-year-old Xiao Mei, who is traveling to China for the first time to visit her extended family. Though she is nervous about going, her grandmother convinces her to be a "messenger": bring back all her memories to the United States. "Cheng does an admirable job of capturing this experience from the perspective of a child," wrote Grace Oliff in School Library Journal. According to a Publishers Weekly contributor, "readers of any ethnic background will enjoy learning about China through Xiao Mei's curious eyes," while a Kirkus Reviews contributor found Cheng's story to be "wonderfully evocative."

Focusing on intergenerational relationships in a different way, Cheng tells the story of three elderly sisters and a young trio of girls who celebrate an eightieth birthday in The Lemon Sisters. "Endearing, this will be a place for conversations to start between young and old," predicted Cooper, while Blair Christolon commented in School Library Journal that the tale "leaves readers with a warm glow inside."

Although at first, Cheng was intimidated by the idea of writing longer fiction, she has successfully published several chapter books as well as novels for middle readers and young adults. Marika, her first novel, was the young reader selection for Cincinnati, Ohio's community-wide reading program, On the Same Page. "I didn't intend to write a novel but my writing group … helped me believe I could do it," the author explained to an interviewer for the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I think my style is more naturally suited to novels," Cheng continued, "but I was afraid to take the plunge until I found an editor who really believed in me."

Marika's story is drawn from Cheng's family history, and the fictional character comes from a well-off family living in Budapest in the 1930s. Although they are Jewish, family members go to Catholic church and consider themselves like all of their neighbors. As World War II breaks out, Marika is sent to live with Catholic friends, who disguise her as a member of their own family, while the girl's mother is sent to Auchwitz. Much of Marika's story comes from the recollections of Cheng's mother and grandmother, who lived through similar experiences. According to Lauren Adams in Horn Book,Cheng's "compelling" tale "is less a war story than it is the story of an interesting young life obscenely interrupted by Hitler's war." Booklist critic Hazel Rochman praised Cheng's "clear, quiet prose," while Amy Lilien-Harper noted in School Library Journal that, "deceptively simple, the story, told in first person, captures a child's life as she grows into the realization of the horrors around her."

Cheng's first chapter book, The Key Collection, tells the story of Jimmy, whose grandmother is moving across the country to live with his aunt. Jimmy and his grandmother have always been very close; she tells him stories of each of the keys that belong to her key collection, and as she prepares to leave, both she and Jimmy realize that they can still be close, even if they live far away. Booklist critic Ed Sullivan considered the tale a "warm, reassuring story of intergenerational friendship," and a Publishers Weekly contributor dubbed the book a "gently delivered, tightly written novel." According to Joanna Rudge Long in Horn Book, "there's unusual warmth and depth in the details of the story." In School Library Journal, Carol A. Edwards deemed the novel "a quiet story with a strong heart and a clear picture of the way kids cope."

The Honeysuckle House focuses on two fourth graders who eventually become friends. At first, Sarah is upset because her teachers assume that, since she is Chinese American, she will happily befriend the new girl in class, Ting. Ting is shy and unsure of how to fit in and, though her interests are drastically different from Sarah's, the pair begin to understand each other and provide each other with support. "Cheng proves herself a gifted and sympathetic observer of middle-graders' conflicts and concerns," wrote a critic for Publishers Weekly, while Lauralyn Persson commented in School Library Journal that, "with a strong social conscience behind it," Cheng's "absorbing novel has a lot going for it." In Horn Book Long maintained that "what distinguishes the story are the judiciously selected actions and details that give its characters vivid individuality."

Like Marika, The Lace Dowry is set in Budapest in the 1930s, but it contains a very different story. Although Juli resists getting married, her mother insists on getting Juli a lace tablecloth for her dowry. In Halas, where the best lace is made, Juli forges a relationship with a young lace maker and seeks to help the girl as the girl's mother loses her sight. "Cheng captures Juli's voice, and that of her difficult mother, directly and simply," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Gillian Engberg noted in Booklist that the author "enrich[es] the theme with a vivid historical setting and Juli's strong narration." In her Horn Book review, Susan P. Bloom commented that "Cheng presents each of the characters sympathetically and gives this tale, unusual in time and setting, poignant relevance and credibility."

On her home page, Cheng discussed the inspiration behind her writing. "I don't really have a purpose in mind when I write," she explained."I usually start with an image rather than an idea or a purpose. For some reason, a certain image is stuck in my mind. I describe it, and the scene around it, and the characters involved, and that becomes a story. I don't have any purpose other than to evoke emotion in the reader."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, December 15, 2000, Ellen Mandel, review of Grandfather Counts, p. 824; July, 2002, Helen Rosenberg, review of When Bees Fly Home, p. 1854; November 15, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of Marika, p. 590; April 15, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Anna the Bookbinder, p. 1476; April 15, 2003, Ed Sullivan, review of The Key Collection, p. 1471; July, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Goldfish and Chrysanthemums, p. 1896; April 1, 2005, Gillian Engberg, review of The Lace Dowry, p. 1360; August, 2005, Hazel Rochman, review of Shanghai Messenger, p. 1965; December 15, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of The Lemon Sisters, p. 49.

Childhood Education, fall, 2003, Elizabeth A. McNichol, review of Anna the Bookbinder, p. 39.

Children's Bookwatch, October, 2005, review of Shanghai Messenger.

Enquirer (Cincinnati, OH), February 28, 2003, Sara Pearce, "Marika Describes Author's Real-Life Family."

Horn Book, November-December, 2002, Lauren Adams, review of Marika, p. 752; July-August, 2003, Joanna Rudge Long, review of The Key Collection, p. 452; July-August, 2004, Joanna Rudge Long, review of Honeysuckle House, p. 449; July-August, 2005, Susan P. Bloom, review of The Lace Dowry, p. 466.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2002, review of Marika, p. 1124; February 15, 2003, review of Anna the Bookbinder, p. 302; March 1, 2003, review of Goldfish and Chrysanthemums, p. 380; June 1, 2003, review of The Key Collection, p. 801; March 15, 2004, review of Honeysuckle House, p. 267; April 1, 2005, review of The Lace Dowry, p. 414; August 1, 2005, review of Shanghai Messenger, p. 845; December 15, 2005, review of The Lemon Sisters, p. 1319.

New York Times Book Review, July 13, 2003, review of The Key Collection, p. 20.

Publishers Weekly, September 16, 2002, review of Marika, p. 69; February 10, 2003, review of Anna the Bookbinder, p. 187; March 10, 2003, review of Goldfish and Chrysanthemums, p. 71; June 16, 2003, review of The Key Collection, p. 71; April 12, 2004, review of Honeysuckle House, p. 66; September 19, 2005, review of Shanghai Messenger, p. 66.

School Library Journal, November, 2000, Diane S. Mar-ton, review of Grandfather Counts, p. 112; December, 2002, Amy Lilien-Harper, review of Marika, p. 132; April, 2003, Diane S. Marton, review of Grandfather Counts, p. 104; May, 2003, Louise L. Sherman, review of Anna the Bookbinder, p. 109; October, 2003, Carol A. Edwards, review of The Key Collection, p. 115; June, 2004, Lauralyn Persson, review of Honeysuckle House, p. 104; May, 2005, Barbara Auerbach, review of The Lace Dowry, p. 125; September, 2005, Grace Oliff, review of Shanghai Messenger, p. 167; January, 2006, Blair Christolon, review of The Lemon Sisters, p. 93.

Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 2005, Mary Ann Harlan, review of The Lace Dowry, p. 126.

ONLINE

Andrea Cheng Home Page, http://www.andreacheng.com(June 21, 2006).

Front Street Books Web site, http://www.frontstreetbooks.com/(June 21, 2006), profile of Cheng.

Lee & Low Web site, http://www.leeandlow.com/(June 21,2006), "Andrea Cheng."

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