The Book in Rhyme…
“Danny Chung does not do maths,
He sees his life down different paths.
People expect, because his Chinese,
That he should be able to do sums with ease.
But deep down in his heart of heart,
His talent and passion lies with art.
His mum and dad have a surprise,
And when faced with it, can’t believe his eyes.
As now frequenting the top bunk of his bed,
Is his Grandma from China, and he fills with dread.
But will Danny realise, while he concedes,
That his grandma maybe exactly what he needs.”
I was looking forward to reading this book for many reasons:
1) It is set in Birmingham, where Maisie grew up so it added a special air of familiarity for me.
2) Having interacted with Maisie on Twitter and via email, she seems to be an all round good egg!
3) Growing up, I always loved Maths and was interested to see how much of the book explored the maths side of things.
I have to say it did not leave me disappointed and far exceeded my expectations in ways which I will explore later.
Danny Chung lives in Birmingham above his mum and dad’s Chinese takeaway. Danny loves to draw and create characters and monsters and put them into comics which his best friend Ravi helps to narrate and add speech to. Danny’s dad does not see the purpose in drawing and sketching and encourages Danny to put his time and effort into more academic subjects.
The thing is Danny really struggles with maths at school but his parents don’t realise just how much he needs support. What doesn’t help is family friends – The Yee Family – stopping by with stuck-up mum Clarissa and seemingly perfect, clever and talented daughter Amelia. They always leave him feeling inadequate, especially when his mum tries to claim how well Danny’s doing which is far from the truth.
But this weekend, something is going on! There’s whispering, knowing looks and The Yee’s drop by with a bunk bed for Danny’s room that they don’t want anymore. Danny is so excited that finally his best mate Ravi will be able to come over for sleepovers except his parents have other ideas…
When Danny returns home from school he discovers that his gran (his Nai Nai) from China, who he has never met, has moved to England to be closer to her family and will be taking the top bunk of the bed. Oh and to top it all off, as mum and dad are busy working the takeaway, it will be Danny’s job to look after Nai Nai and keep her occupied over the Summer holidays all while she speaks no English and he speaks no Mandarin.
What starts as a walking disaster area soon becomes a life lesson for Danny as he learns far more about Nai Nai and indeed himself over the Summer!
I loved this book, firstly because of Nai Nai! I lost my Nan last Summer and as Danny tries to communicate with Nai Nai and keep her occupied it took me right back to being at my Nan’s telling her stories about school and telling her all about computers and the internet, mobile phones and all other matters of modern life she refused to engage with and preferred to watch River dance or Father Ted on the television. She would sit there avidly listening to our outpourings of modern life as children and she would laugh at us in disbelief of the things we would come out with all while trying to force feed us at any opportunity (For any Father Ted fans, my Nan was Mrs Doyle – she would not take no for an answer).
It really reminded of how so many children, naturally egocentric as they grow up only see grandparents for the role they fulfil, yet they are people in their own right with histories, talents, successes, failures and personalities. It was wonderful to see how Danny began to see Nai Nai for the person she was behind the family connection and really made me reminisce of my Nan and who she was apart from being a force feeding, Irish dancing, Father Ted fan!
I know a huge driver for Maisie in this book is representation and it’s great to have Chinese representation for children that you could umbrella under the genre realistic fiction. It explores Chinese traditions and cultures while also tackles Chinese stereotypes such as how all Chinese people are supposed to be good at maths. There will be a whole generation of Danny’s waiting for a book where they go to school just like them, have friends just like them and go home and live within Chinese culture and traditions -just like them. That alone is a powerful thing.
Aside from that, it’s just a great story that many children will relate to. The theme of friendship and longing to be part of the cool kids is explored really well here and the sacrifices you make to your own character in order to fit in really underpin the struggles many children from a minority background may face.
Danny’s mum also goes on a journey where she learns to own her life instead of constantly competing and feeling almost indebted to the Yee family. Similarly, Danny’s dad also has a cathartic experience when it emerges just why him and Danny’s grandfather didn’t speak for such a long time and the parallels between how Danny is regarded now were very powerful.
Lots of little nuggets of humour across the whole book from hilarious crown green bowling escapades and the gang warfare to be found in the local bingo hall!
The ending for me was joyous and wonderful and celebrated all that is heart warming and feel good! I was left with an awesome sense of pride for Nai Nai as she experienced success and acceptance after bravely travelling the other side of the world to start a new life in her later years. She deserves the celebration too because bravery like that is vastly underestimated. And lastly for my own Nan who uprooted her own family and moved them to a different country, I celebrate her bravery too.
For a humorous, family drama full of heart and for a representative look at Chinese culture and traditions, Danny Chung does not do Maths is a wonderful addition to any reading corner at school or indeed a bookshelf at home.
And as for the maths… that was a great undercurrent of a theme that grew and became the conduit for Danny and Nai Nai to cement their respect and relationship and was an awesome little touch to an otherwise awesome story.
Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths was published 10/06/21 by Piccadilly Press and so is out now to buy. Why not buy from an independent bookshop like Rocketship Bookshop where I bought this book.