Good Luck, Ivy

Published in 2007; author Lisa Yee; illustrators Robert Hunt, Nika Korniyenko, and Susan McAliley


Ivy's feeling out-of-sorts. Her mom has quit her job for law school which keeps her very busy, her dad's working two jobs and is rarely home, her older brother Andrew is a know-it-all who tries to claim the rights of a favored eldest son and won't leave her alone, and her younger sister Missy is a chatterbox who is sweet, but also won't leave her alone. She also fell off the balance beam at a recent gymnastics competition and couldn't recover to get back on before her time was up. Time to herself is precious to Ivy, as she's always busy between school, gymnastics, helping around the house, and Chinese school. All this and her best friend Julie is only around occasionally to talk to.

Ivy's life is extra-busy right now. She needs to do an extra-credit report about her family history for Chinese school that her parents are too busy to help with, and her gymnastics team is having a bake sale to raise money for the big league competition. Ivy and Julie decide to make her mother's almond cookie recipe by themselves, since Ivy's mom is exhausted from studying and housework. Even though they're ten, they don't know how recipes work apparently. Seriously, this bugs me, because my three-year-old can follow directions and count to three or whatever with me as we measure things, and I could follow a recipe and double or halve it by ten. They just estimate they'll need six or seven eggs and half a bag of sugar, etc. Ivy's mother happens upon them as they start baking a terrible batch of cookies and, with remarkable aplomb, thanks Ivy for trying to be responsible and help, but that only adults should cook (sure, if your kids don't know enough to find the recipe!). Ivy and Julie offer to remake the cookie dough with the recipe (why didn't they use it in the first place!) while Ivy's mom studies in the kitchen, ready to help if needed. With the supervision, the girls make the recipe correctly, and even improve on it by adding a bit of Ghiraradelli chocolate to each cookie. Ivy's mom is impressed with the new twist, and so is Ivy's brother--who had just been teasing Ivy that she'd never be able to make the cookies right and should just give up. 

But Ivy's still have trouble with confidence in gymnastics. She's trying, but her body just won't cooperate. And then when her mom stops to pick up dinner from Ivy's grandparents' restaurant, Ivy moans about being tired of Chinese food--and her grandparents are right there to hear her. Even helping a frantic mother find her lost son by translating between Chinese and English can't lift Ivy's spirits for long. And then it turns out that there's a big family reunion that conflicts with Ivy's big league gymnastics tournament. To her parents' credit, they acknowledge how hard she's been working at her sport and how important she is to her team, and leave the decision up to her. When her grandparents pick her up after her next practice and take her out for burgers (Ivy apologizes for what she said, but they brush it off by saying they get sick of Chinese food too), Ivy decides that family is more important than gymnastics and picks the reunion. But when she tries to tell her coach, she can't get the words out. Her mother helps her father see that this isn't just any meet, it's the biggest one she's been in yet, and with that knowledge he fully supports Ivy competing--before he'd been clearly wanting her to pick the reunion. Even Andrew is encouraging, contradicting Ivy when she says he's good at everything because he's lucky. Andrew works hard and makes his own luck. That gives Ivy something to think about. Her grandparents also encourage her, reminding her that a slip up in her routine isn't the end of the world, and that she's doing gymnastics because she enjoys it, so she should relax and have a good time. The morning of the tournament, Missy lends Ivy her special toy lion, for good luck.

At the tournament, Ivy does well on the first three (of four) events: floor, vault, and the uneven bars. Other members of her are also doing well. Last is balance beam, and Ivy gets more and more nervous waiting for it. She discreetly gives the lion stuffed in her bag, a squeeze for reassurance, and sees an envelope from her family. Inside is a Polaroid of them holding a sign that reads "Good Luck, Ivy!" Andrew painted the sign himself, with a beautifully detailed dragon on it. She also sees Julie in the audience. The support of her family and friend bolster her confidence and she focuses her attention on her routine. She wobbles a few times, but never falls and completes her routine. When awards are handed out, Ivy receives fourth place in vault, third in balance beam, and a first-place trophy in floor. Her team wins second in the tournament! Thrilled though she is, Ivy can't help noticing that everyone else has family surrounding and congratulating them. Ivy talks to her coach briefly and excuses herself from the planned pizza party. Julie and her dad take Ivy back to her house, where she changes into the red Chinese dress she wore for Chinese New Year, and then they take Julie to the reunion.

There, everyone is glad to see Ivy, and also invites Julie and her dad to stay. Ivy gets to be the center of attention for a few minutes, with her whole family oohing and aahing over her medals and trophy. As she's eating delicious Chinese food, Ivy overhears an uncle telling Missy how he came to America, all on his own as a teenager. Inspired, Ivy grabs a notebook and interviews several family members. Her extra-credit report will practically write itself! Talking with Julie, Ivy comments that she's happy to part of her family--all the members are wonderful.

Looking Back

The 1849 California gold rush (from which the San Francisco 49ers NFL team gets its name...Go Seahawks) kick-started a large wave of immigration people traveled from all over hoping to strike it rich. Many men came from China, and while most didn't find large amounts of gold they did find many ways to earn a living, from farming and fishing to doing other people's laundry. Many others found work when the trans-continental railroad was built in the 1860s. However, they faced a lot prejudice. Chinese immigrants were forbidden from gaining US citizenship unless they'd been born in the US (not all immigrants wanted to naturalize, but those who did couldn't), and couldn't bring their families--parents, wives, siblings, children--over from China. Still, many Chinese immigrants stayed in the US, forming their own communities which would become the "Chinatown" districts of various cities. San Francisco in particular had a large Chinese population. In 1906, the Bay Area was hit by a 7.8 (estimated) earthquake which started fires throughout the city, destroying, among other things, birth records. Though undeniably a tragedy (an estimated three thousand people died, including those in Chinatown), the earthquake presented a unique opportunity to the Chinese immigrants: with no way to prove otherwise, they could now claim they were born in the US and claim citizenship, and bring their families over from China. Today Americans of Chinese descent may still face prejudice, but not in the widespread, pervasive, systematic way of the past. Chinese culture remains popular today, especially among those wishing to maintain a connection with their roots.


This book is dedicated to "Julie Uehara and Debbie Loescher for your friendship and kindness."

There's funny line about Ivy wishing she had a color TV. Even her great-uncle has one, that he won on The Price is Right--and he's colorblind! (Men are far more likely to be color-blind than women as a common type, red-green colorblindness, is tied to the Y chromosome.)

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