Eleven-year-old Danny’s life is turned upside down when his Chinese grandmother comes to live with his family in England. Things get worse when Danny finds out he’ll have to share his room with her, and she took the top bunk!
At first, Danny is frustrated that he can’t communicate with her because she doesn’t speak English—and because he’s on the verge of failing math and Nai Nai was actually a math champion back in the day. It just feels like he and his grandmother have nothing in common. His parents insist that Danny help out, so when he’s left to look after Nai Nai, he leaves her at the bingo hall for the day to get her off his back. But he soon discovers that not everyone there is as welcoming as he expected . . .
Through the universal languages of math and art, Danny realizes he has more in common with his Nai Nai than he first thought.
One of my favourite things about middle-grade stories is how they explore the close relationships that we have with people, especially with our friends and family. Siblings are different now, friendships are changing, and even the character themselves are growing up too. So, what about a story about a young Chinese-British boy who has to suddenly become roommates with a grandmother he’s never met before and that he doesn’t understand?
Danny Chung Sums It Up by Maisie Chan explores this unexpected quandary, and does so with warmth, humour, and a good dose of empathy. This is a fantastic read for young readers looking for something that’s both fun and heartwarming, and I have five reasons to share why you should pick up this book!
1. A fun read written with humour and heart
Paired with gorgeous and soulful illustrations by Natelle Quek, young readers will enjoy Danny’s relatable voice and how both warm and funny the story he is as a narrator. As an artist, Danny has a wild imagination, which comes to life in his story and how he sees the world, but also through the fun and creative drawings that he comes up with. Underneath the humour though, Danny feels like an everyday kid who is going through the things that most kids will experience, making him an easy character that readers will connect with.
2. A relatable story for artsy readers who struggle with maths
Growing up, I was the Asian kid who wasn’t good at math, even though everyone thought I was good at math simply because of the stereotype that all Asians are good at math. Like Danny, I also loved art and loved being creative. For other young readers out there, especially fellow Asian readers who loved art and wasn’t that good at maths, Danny Chung Sums It Up will be a read that will resonate you – but also reaches a satisfying conclusion wherein art and maths aren’t totally separate from each other.
3. It’s a story about family and generational differences
A significant part of this story is Danny’s relationships with his family, especially his Nai Nai (grandmother). When his grandmother, who he has never met before, flies all the way from China to live with his parents, it throws a wrench into all of his summer plans of sleepovers and hangouts with his best friend, Ravi. At its heart, Danny Chung Sums It Up is about the generational differences between grandparents and grandkids and how these relationships may not always be in sync – whether it be due to language barriers or cultural differences or simply having nothing in common – but they’re nonetheless a precious relationship.
4. Friendship and how it isn’t always perfect is explored
Relationships are key in Danny Chung Sums It Up and we also get to see Danny navigate his friendships as well. Even though Danny has an awesome friendship with his best friend Ravi, whom he shares a lot of inside jokes with and a love for art, Danny also feels like he wants to hang out with the cool kids and their cool toys. So when a misunderstanding means that Danny gets the chance to hang out with the cool kids, Danny seizes the opportunity – but at what cost to his friendship? I loved that this story shows how friendships aren’t always perfect, but it also means that friendships can come out stronger on the other side.
5. At its heart, it’s a story about kindness and compassion
At the very heart of Danny Chung Sums It Up is a story about the importance of kindness and compassion. Danny’s decisions aren’t always the most kind, especially when what he wants gets in the way with what might be the ‘good’ thing to do, but I loved that the story comes from a place of how first impressions are not always correct and that there is always so much more to someone or something, and that, at the end of the day, sometimes we need a little more compassion to better understand each other – and also ourselves.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: When a boy’s grandma that he’s never met unexpectedly moves in with him, his summer plans are thrown awry – and he will have to navigate friendship, language barriers, and generational differences to connect with his grandma.
Perfect for: Readers looking for a story about grandparents-grandkids; readers looking for a story about cultural differences; readers looking for a light and fun read about family.
Think twice if: You’re not looking for something with a ‘younger’ voice.
Genre: middle-grade, contemporary
Trigger/content warning: mention of dead grandparent