Book Review: Danny Chung Sums It Up

Danny Chung Sums It Up by Maisie Chan

Danny Chung Sums It Up
by Maisie ChanNatelle Quek (Illustrations)
4 out of 5 stars

Danny Chung is dismayed when his Chinese grandmother moves into the family’s small apartment, and he has to share his bedroom with her! She only speaks a specific dialect of Chinese that Danny can’t understand, and she is always embarrassing Danny in front of his friends. Danny has a huge math project that he is supposed to be working on, but Danny hates math. His parents insist that he has to spend time with his grandmother while they are at work. Danny’s only refuge is in his drawings and sketches. Making comic sketches is the only thing Danny really cares about. Could there be a way to use his drawings to communicate with his grandmother?

This was such a sweet and heart-warming story! It was wonderful to see Danny’s character development. He gradually begins to understand, appreciate, and love his grandmother. Danny is such a complex and loveable character. He certainly has his flaws, but he is also willing to admit when he is wrong and do his best to make things right. He has such a good heart!

I loved the plot, and all the little details that make Danny’s family so special. They are such a close-knit family. It was so interesting to see the family dynamic between them all, and how they have certain expectations of each other. At the beginning of the book, it is a broken family, each person sort of lonely, misunderstanding one another, but they learn to be more accepting, they learn to listen, and their home becomes a happier place.

It was also interesting to learn about some aspects of the Chinese culture. Danny is navigating very different traditions and values from China and England, not to mention the age gap between himself and his grandmother. It’s a wonderful mixture of various customs all blended together with friendship and love.

I was completely impressed with the grandmother, Nai-Nai. She is fierce and intelligent and kind. She comes to a new country where she doesn’t speak the language, and she dives right in with courage and a smile, making friends and learning to navigate her way around. What a trouper!

The writing is really excellent! I immediately felt an emotional connection to the characters, and I was entertained in every chapter. I was laughing at the funny scenes, and crying at the emotional moments. It’s a complete delight!

There are many boyish references to farts and poop and vomit. Nothing excessively grotesque, but just the sort of childish humor I would expect from a 6th grade boy. Exactly the right approach for the target audience, but not my cup of tea.

I was appalled at one reference to Danny trying to take violin lessons. Danny describes his lessons as “torture” and says that he “played badly on purpose.” I am a music teacher, and I find this horribly offensive. And I worry that children reading this will come away with a bad impression of music lessons. I understand that the book is trying to subvert Chinese stereotypes and show that not all Chinese children are geniuses at music and math, but still… that doesn’t mean you have to bad-mouth music lessons. By the end of the book, Danny realizes that math isn’t so bad, and he begins to actually enjoy math a little bit. No such luck for his violin lessons. Children reading this book will just assume that violin is horrible, or too hard, or no fun. Thanks for discouraging the next generation of musicians!

There is a greengrocer in this book who is homosexual, and Danny and his grandmother watch a TV show about cross-dressing men.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and honest review. All the opinions stated here are my own true thoughts, and are not influenced by anyone.

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