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  • Written by Lensey Namioka
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  • Written by Lensey Namioka
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Written by Lensey NamiokaAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Lensey Namioka


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On Sale: December 18, 2008
Pages: 144 | ISBN: 978-0-307-52969-5
Published by : Yearling RH Childrens Books
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FIONA CHENG IS half and half: Her father is Chinese and her mother is Scottish. Fiona looks more like her father than her mother, so people always expect her to be more interested in her Chinese half than her Scottish half. Lately even Fiona’s confused about who she really is.

“A realistic, gentle and funny tale.”—Detroit News & Free Press

“Readers will identify with Fiona’s struggle to fit in.”—Publishers Weekly

From the Hardcover edition.



“Your form isn’t complete, Fiona,” said the recreations director. “I can’t let you enroll in the folk dancing class until it’s completely filled in.”

The recreation center is located at a park not far from my school. For years the center had been used for adult education classes, such as pottery and language lessons. Recently the building was remodeled and expanded, and they started having classes for young people, too.

When I heard there were folk dancing classes, I immediately went over to enroll. I had never filled out one of their forms before, and I didn’t know what the director meant by the form not being completely filled in. I looked it over again.

Name:Fiona Cheng
Address:2134 Hillside Blvd. E.
Seattle, WA
Class:Folk Dancing

It looked good to me.

“You didn’t check a box for race,” she said. “To get government funding, we have to let them know how many kids we have in each of the race categories.”

This was a problem I’d bumped into before, but I still wasn’t sure how to handle it. I took the form from her. “I’ll finish it later,” I muttered, and quickly left the recreation center.

On the way home, I tried to decide on the best way to complete the form. I had to check one of the boxes that said, “White,” “Asian,” “Black,” “Hispanic,” “Native American,” or “Other.” None of them would be right, though, because I’m not any one of those things. I’m half and half: my father is Chinese and my mother is Scottish. I couldn’t just check either “White” or “Asian” since I’m half of each.

I suppose I could have checked the box for “Other,” but I didn’t want to. It would make me feel like an outsider, a weirdo who didn’t belong anywhere. I wanted to fit in like everyone else. Why didn’t they have a box for people like me, who were half and half?

When I got home, Mom was in the kitchen, pouring herself a cup of tea. She teaches math at the university, so she’s often home in the afternoon. She drinks tea instead of coffee, even though we live in Seattle, the nation’s coffee capital. Tea is cheaper than coffee since you can use the tea bag over again. You see, Mom is very thrifty.

She says it’s because a mathematician’s aim when proving a theorem is to use as little as possible to prove as much as possible. In other words, you always spend a teeny bit to get a whole lot. After doing this for years and years, you wind up being ver-r-r-y thr-r-r-ifty.

I took a seat at the kitchen table. “Mom, what am I?” I asked.

She frowned. “What do you mean? You’re Fiona Cheng, last time I looked.”

“I’m not asking you who I am,” I said. “I’m asking you what I am.”

“What brought this on?” asked Mom, sipping her tea and looking at me over the rim of the cup. I think she suspected that the problem had something to do with our family being racially mixed. It’s not something the two of us often discuss.

I told her about the form I had to fill out for the folk dancing class. Mom didn’t answer right away. The expression in her hazel eyes didn’t tell me much. “Why not check two boxes, one for ‘Asian’ and one for ‘White’?” she suggested after a while.

“I don’t think they’ll accept that,” I sighed. Suddenly I became angry. “Why do grown-ups always have to sort people into boxes anyway?”

“They like to do that, don’t they?” said Mom. “But you can’t always sort people by the way they look.”

To be honest, though, I sorted people, too. Whenever I met another racially mixed kid for the first time, I thought about percentages. I said to myself, “Let’s see . . . 65 percent/35 percent,” meaning that he looks 65 percent one race and 35 percent another. Later, when I got to know the person well, I’d forget about the percentage business for the most part. But it was a tough habit to break completely. Maybe I get it from Mom’s love of mathematics?

Since Mom wasn’t any help, I went upstairs to Dad’s studio. He writes and illustrates children’s books. His best-known books are a series about a dragon living in ancient China. Dragons are supposed to do all sorts of good things, like bringing rain to lands suffering from drought. But Dad’s dragon is secretly scared of water, and just about everything else, too. So how can his dragon present a majestic and fearsome image to the world while preserving his shameful secret? Each of Dad’s books puts his dragon in a tight spot, but the dragon always manages to get out of it somehow.

I knew Dad was working on the illustrations for his latest dragon book. Normally I don’t like to interrupt him, but this time I needed help.

Dad looked up from his drawing board and placed a large sheet of paper over the picture he was working on. He always does this automatically whenever anyone comes in while he’s in the middle of something. He hates having people look at his work before he’s satisfied with it.

“What’s up, Fiona?” he asked.

I asked him the same question I had asked Mom. “I have to fill out a form for the folk dancing class, and they want to know what race I am. Should I check the box for ‘Asian,’ or the box for ‘White’?”

Dad looked at me. His eyes are a dark brown, just like mine. “Would it bother you to check the box for ‘Asian’?” he asked.

“Of course it wouldn’t,” I said quickly. I’ve always known that I look more Asian. I have my dad’s brown eyes, straight dark hair, and dark skin. By checking the box for “Asian,” I would be telling him that I belonged with his people.

“It’s just that I have to be accurate,” I told Dad. “The recreation center has to report the number of kids they have in each race to get money from the government.”

“Then you should do whatever feels right to you,” said Dad.

The problem was that I didn’t know what felt right to me.

From the Hardcover edition.
Lensey Namioka

About Lensey Namioka

Lensey Namioka - Half and Half
Lensey Namioka has written many popular books, including Ties That Bind, Ties That Break (Laurel-Leaf).


Praise for Ties That Bind, Ties That Break:
“This colorful novel has the force and intensity of a memoir.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred

From the Hardcover edition.
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide


Embracing One’s Cultures: A Guide

Grades 3 up

All-of-a-Kind Family
by Sydney Taylor
Maya Running by Anjali Banerjee
Fresh Girl by Jaïra Placide
The Shadows of Ghadames by Joëlle Stolz
Macaroni Boy by Katherine Ayres
Half and Half by Lensey Namioka
Bindi Babes by Narinder Dhami
See You Down the Road by Kim Ablon Whitney

Visualize the varied cultures in American society today: descendents of Vietnamese refugees; foreign and native-born children of Latin American parents seeking to break the bonds of poverty; Muslim youth from devout Middle Eastern families; descendents of early 1900s immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and other European countries; sons and daughters of research scientists, scholars, and engineers from all over the globe. Every race, nationality, and religion contributes to the photograph of “Our American Family.” But instead of embracing the richness of America’s unique crossroads of cultures, schools often become a battleground where students from diverse backgrounds fight to belong. Prejudice stemming from negative stereotypes and ignorance leads to students being harassed and teased about the clothes they wear, the food they eat, and the way they speak, which robs those targeted of the pride they should be able to express in their own ethnicity. The books in this educators guide include literature that encompasses many of the cultures students may encounter in their school, and can help students define and embrace their own culture as well as the cultures of others. These books focus on themes of acceptance, cultural pride, and a sense of heritage that must be fostered in all of our students if our schools, and ultimately our society, can hope to be productive, successful, and united.


Being half Chinese and half Scottish has never been a problem for Fiona until the annual folk festival where she must make a choice between dancing the Highland Reel or appearing with her father as the heroine of one of his children’s books.



Fiona asks her mom, “Why do grown-ups always have to sort people into boxes anyway?” (p. 4) No one can easily answer the question, so Fiona has to answer it for herself. How does she determine the answer to her question?

2. While local reporters claim Seattle is ethnically diverse, and Fiona sits at a lunch table with students of varying ethnic cultures, she often feels as if she doesn’t belong. Why is she confused about her place among her family and friends?

3. Fiona discovers that people, family included, see what they want to see in a person, and that they judge a person based on appearance. How is this true for every character in the book?


Taking It Global
Discusses cultural diversity in America.

American Civil Liberties Union: Immigrant Rights
The official Web page.

The American Immigrants Home Page
Helpful information for and about immigrants.

Federation for American Immigration Reform
Immigrant reform movement and its affect on public schools.

Cultural Diversity–a CCSD research program
Lifestyle patterns of immigrant youth.


Prepared by Susan Geye, Library Media Specialist, Crowley Ninth Grade Campus, Crowley, Texas.

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