Sunday, March 18, 2012


San Francisco Boy, Lois Lenski, J B Lippincott Company, 1955, 176 pp


Felix is a Chinese boy of ten or eleven living in San Franciso's Chinatown with his sister Mei Gwen who is nine and his six-year-old twin brothers Frankie and Freddie. We don't know why the boys have American names and the girl has a combination name, though from other books I've read, it was common in the 1950s for Asian immigrants to give American names to their children.

Felix can do pretty much what he likes after school but Mei Gwen has to watch over the twins. Their mother works in a jeans factory (more like a sweat shop) and Mei Gwen goes there after school to babysit the little kids who are brought to work by their moms. The father of the family is head cook at a restaurant.

After some free time, Felix must go to Chinese school in the late afternoon and arrives at home very late. He is unhappy in the city and yearns for the tiny rural town of Alameda where the family lived when he was very young. Mei Gwen has grown up in the city and has friends of all nationalities for blocks around.

Though the story follows the usual Lois Lenski arc, it is the most exotic of her books due to the location and subject matter. Through the children we get a tour of the key San Francisco sights and the relation of Chinese to other nationalities there.

Lenski presents these people with her customary grace and tolerance of the differences in people. Her love of children and her fascination with the growing up process is palpable in San Francisco Boy. I was captivated on every page.

(San Francisco Boy is out of print and best found in libraries or from used book sellers.)

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