A Parents Magazine Best Kids Book of the Year!
A New York Public Library Best Book of the Year!
An NPR Best Book of the Year!
A Horn Book Best Book of the Year!
A Kirkus Best Book of the Year!
Recipient of FIVE starred reviews!
"Pie in the Sky is like enjoying a decadent cake . . . heartwarming and rib-tickling." Terri Libenson, bestselling author of Invisible Emmie
When Jingwen moves to a new country, he feels like he’s landed on Mars. School is torture, making friends is impossible since he doesn’t speak English, and he's often stuck looking after his (extremely irritating) little brother, Yanghao.
To distract himself from the loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu of Pie in the Sky, the bakery his father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. The only problem is his mother has laid down one major rule: the brothers are not to use the oven while she's at work. As Jingwen and Yanghao bake elaborate cakes, they'll have to cook up elaborate excuses to keep the cake making a secret from Mama.
In her hilarious, moving middle-grade debut, Remy Lai delivers a scrumptious combination of vibrant graphic art and pitch-perfect writing that will appeal to fans of Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham's Real Friends, Kelly Yang's Front Desk, and Jerry Craft's New Kid.
A Junior Library Guild selection!
"Seamlessly mixes together equal parts of humor, loss, identity, discovery, and love to create a delicious concoction of a story. . . illustrated beautifully with Lai's insightful drawings." Veera Hiranandani, Newbery Honor-winning author of The Night Diary
* "The humor [is] akin to that of Jeff Kinney’s popular “Wimpy Kid” series . . . the perfect mixture of funny and emotionally resonant." School Library Journal, starred review
* “Perfect for fans of Gene Luen Yang and Victoria Jamieson.” Shelf Awareness, starred review
This title has common core connections.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I look. The wing of the airplane slices through the fluffy cloud like a knife through cake. Sometimes, when the plane leans enough, I catch glimpses of the ocean. It's as blue as the sky. Only the clouds make it clear that the sky is the sky. Then Yanghao sticks his oily face to the window, and my view is replaced by the back of his giant head.
I turn to the box on my lap. It's pink and looks like a plain old box from a mom-and-pop bakery. The cake inside looks like a plain old cake iced with plain old cream and topped with plain old strawberries. But it's the most special cake. Not a special of my family's cake shop back in my old home, because this cake isn't on the menu. My family usually only has this cake on our birthdays, but my grandmother made an exception. Ah-po handed me the box of cake through the window of the taxi and said, "Jingwen, you'll be so happy over there that you'll need to celebrate with this cake." Goes to show that old people aren't wise about everything.
A long time ago, which really isn't that long ago but seems like from a time when dinosaurs roamed, I asked Ah-po if she and Ahgong were coming along to Australia. She replied, "If we both go, who'll run our cake shop?"
"Our cake shop will never ever close," Ah-gong said, even though that day was a Sunday and our shop was closed, like on all Sundays. I asked him what if a giant meteor was hurtling toward Earth, or King Kong was on a rampage, or chickens became extinct so there were no eggs for cake making. He handed me an egg cake and told me to eat it while it was warm. Old people are sly at shutting kids up.
"We're too old and set in our ways," Ah-po said. And that was that. Once old people use age as a reason for anything, a kid can never come up with a reply that's good enough. But she and Ah-gong truly did look sad that they weren't coming. I wanted to tell them everything would be all right, but instead, I just split the tiny egg cake in half and watched short ribbons of steam rise out of it.
Ah-gong had the final word. "It's so far away. It's too long a flight."
Of course, because Ah-gong is old, he is right, and this flight I'm on is definitely too long. Not just because of the thousands-of-kilometers distance.
Hours that seem like centuries later, Yanghao's still going, "Looklooklook! A bathroom on the plane! Looklooklook!"
A shadow falls over the cake. I look up. A flight attendant is standing over me.
It's the first time someone directly speaks to me in English. It sounds like Martian.
Oh wait, I think I caught the word "please." But please what?
"Jingwen." Mama puts a hand on my arm. "The flight attendant wants to store the cake in the overhead compartment. We're about to land."
I close the box and hand it to the flight attendant.
Mama says, "Thank you," and I think the flight attendant replies, "Welcome," but I'm not sure. The word is lost in some other words.
Suddenly it feels like I've been frozen in this sitting position for days. My back is tired, and my knees are sore. I straighten my legs, but my feet knock the seat in front of me. A woman's face appears in the gap between that seat and the one next to it. She glances down at my feet. I squirm.
The cabin turns dim, and the plane shakes like I'm in my family's Honda CR-V back home, driving our way along a street that's more potholes than road. My ears hurt again like they did when the plane took off. I tell myself that everything will be all right, pinch my nose, and blow. Pop! Then the plane lands with a jolt like when our CR-V goes over a speed bump too fast.
Before the seat belt signs are switched off, people get up to retrieve their stuff from the overhead compartments. Mama follows, standing on tiptoes to reach for Yanghao's and my backpacks and her handbag. She hands me the pink box.
Yanghao climbs over the seat dividers toward me.
I don't want everyone on the plane to stare when he cries, and Mama will make me be a good older brother anyway, so I pass the box over. "Don't drop it," I say. Then I shout, "Don't run! Don't be a silly booger!" as he skips ahead of Mama and me down the rows of seats.
I've forgotten that little brothers only do the opposite, and I should've told him to drop the box, run like a wild moose, and act like the biggest booger. I'm stepping off the soft carpet onto the clickety-clackety floor of the rectangular snake that connects the plane to the airport when he says, "Ah!"
The next thing I hear is a plop!
All I can do is stare at the rainbow cake and let ridiculous thoughts run through my brain. Maybe it's an omen, that we shouldn't have stuck with the plan and come to Australia.
I want to yell at Yanghao, kick him when Mama isn't looking. He'll tattle, but it'll be worth it. I also want to join his concert of tears, wails, and snot. But then I hear the people around us — those in front of us who have turned back upon hearing Yanghao's cries, those passing by us, and those stuck behind us.
I'm on Mars.CHAPTER 2
Two months later, I'm still on Mars.
If I say that to Yanghao, he'll say, "We're on a bus."
Because he's only nine and still annoying.
If I say I'm on a bus on Mars, he'll say, "We're on a bus in Australia."
If I say we're on bus number 105 to Northbridge Primary School, which is in Australia, which might as well be Mars because to me English still sounds like an alien language even though we've been here for two months, and so everyone else is an alien and he and I are the only humans, he'll say, "Jingwen, you're a booger." That's what he always says when he runs out of lame comebacks.
So I say nothing. I just want to get us to school. Not because I'm a weird, school-loving kid, but because that's my responsibility. During our first week of school on Mars, Mama rode the bus with us. One week of training for me to memorize the way: a fifteen-minute walk from our apartment to the bus station, followed by bus number 105, get off after nine stops, and arrive at Northbridge Primary School; do the reverse for home. Yanghao doesn't need to do anything except follow his big brother like a rat following stinky cheese. Which is a bad analogy since I smell okay.
This going to school and back by ourselves is a big deal. Back in our old home, Yanghao and I never went anywhere beyond our own street without a parent or grandparent. I can also tell it's a big deal from the way Mama took a million pictures of Yanghao and me on this journey through the suburbs. Well, not a million, because the memory card on our secondhand digital camera can't store that much. But there are more pictures than anyone needs of Yanghao and me in our new uniforms, with our new backpacks, standing outside our apartment, waiting for the bus, tapping our cards to pay the bus fare, standing by the school gates, et cetera, et cetera. We were going to get the pictures printed and mailed by actual mailmen to my grandparents since they don't do emails. So I smiled like a clown in those pictures. Which is also a bad analogy since clowns are freaky. Nobody would paint such big smiles on their faces unless, inside, they are terribly sad.
The bus turns a corner, and Yanghao leans into me. "Look-looklook," he says, elbowing me even though he's already gotten my attention. "Cake!"
"So what?" I say. "Have you never seen cake?"
Yanghao makes his are-you-for-real face. Which I guess I deserve because back in our old home, far away from Mars, our family's cake shop occupies the front part of our house, the part that should have been the living room. We see cake every day, every minute, every second, even in our dreams. If there's an apocalypse and we all turn into zombies, while everyone else is stumbling around looking for brains, my family will be the odd ones craving something different.
Yanghao elbows me again and points to the box the alien is holding. "It's from Barker Bakes."
"Stop pointing," I say, stealing a glance at the alien in a more polite and less obvious way. On the box is the café's logo — a whisk lying on its side. That's where Mama works. At the café. Not in the logo. Or the box. I need to specifically point out that my mother doesn't work in a logo or in a box, because I've been hanging around my little brother way too much these past two months since we came to Mars — on account of our having made zero friends — and he'd have definitely joked, "Mama works in the logo? Or in the box?" and then laughed so hard snot would shoot out of his nose.
Mama says he's funny; I say he's cuckoo.
The bus screeches to a stop.
Yanghao leans into me too much, much farther than the bus's jerkiness would have made him.
The crowd of aliens on the bus has herded Yanghao and me to where we can't reach a seat's grab handle or anything to stop us from falling. The hanging loops don't count — I can't reach them even if I jump. Yanghao definitely can't reach them. He's short for his age because he used to get cooties that suck the blood you need to grow tall.
He and I domino into the alien with the cake.
The alien turns around and looms over us.
I can't guess what he's saying. The bottom half of his face is covered by a forest that muffles his voice. There's no way to tell if his tone is be-careful-you-naughty-boys or no-worries-all-good. He's wearing big, thick glasses, and I can't see if his eyebrows are angry or not. I want to tell him he should forgive Yanghao and me because back in our old home, far away from Mars, we never took the bus, only our Honda CR-V. Not that we're rich, but back there, the buses don't go everywhere and they come about once every hour instead of every fifteen minutes like here on Mars. And those buses aren't air-conditioned, and the seats smell like blue cheese, which I've never seen or eaten but have been told reeks of stinky feet. Plus, there are pickpockets. At least that's what my grandparents told Yanghao when he whined some time ago about how it was unfair he wasn't allowed to take a bus. He wasn't dropped on his head as a baby — I don't think so — but he'd watched an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants where there's a red bus that looks like a lobster, which was why he wanted to try it himself — and then he was disappointed to find out the real ones don't look like lobsters.
I'll explain all that to the alien, and he'll understand.
Yanghao elbows me — I swear, one more time, and I'll chop off his elbow. He grins sheepishly. "Luckily he didn't drop the cake."
I'm still sore about that rainbow cake, but Ah-gong once said it's good to let things go. Besides, the bearded, bespectacled alien is still staring at me.
I say, "Pretend we're talking."
Yanghao gives me his are-you-for-real look again. "We are talking."
"You know what I mean. Is he still watching me — don'tlooknow!"
"How can I know if he's watching you if I can't look?"
"Okay, look — but secretly."
"Jingwen ... he's staring at you ..." he says in what is supposedly a scary voice. "His eyes are bulging. He's gritting his teeth ..." The thing about Yanghao is, he doesn't know when to stop. For anything. He's always eating too much, always singing too loud, always crossing the line from a bit annoying to so annoying I have to thump him. And when he lies, he goes on and on, and I know he's trying too hard to convince me.
"His fists are clenched. His beard is trembling. His —"
"Riiight." I turn to see what the bearded, bespectacled alien is actually doing. That's when I spot the girl standing next to him. She's in a Northbridge Primary School uniform and about my age and staring at me. She notices me noticing and quickly looks at her feet.CHAPTER 3
The second time I was told we were moving to Australia, Mama broke the news by taking Yanghao and me to the special café that we'd only ever visited on weekends before.
I already knew a little bit about Australia because of the first time I was told we'd be moving there. Papa announced it over dinner. He showed us a book called Welcome to Australia, which had plenty of pictures of koalas and kangaroos.
Later, when I'd assumed that the first move to Australia was canceled, one of my classmates told me he was moving there. Turned out, he'd been having daily after-school English tutoring for a year. By the time he got to see the koalas and kangaroos in the flesh, I bet he knew more than just "apple" and "thank you" and "pie" and "sky" and "bathroom." But I didn't tell Mama that I should first attend a year of daily English tutoring, not even after I got over the shock of her announcement.
Reason one: I'd much rather spend my time after school doing anything else in the universe.
Reason two: Mama believed I was a genius who'd pick up a new language in a snap of the fingers. I was happy she thought I was a genius, and moms know everything, so maybe I was a genius and didn't know it. I promised myself then that I'd work hard at English so she wouldn't be disappointed. But in the two months we've been here, I've found that learning English is probably like learning to unicycle — possible, but you fall a lot along the way.
Reason three: Mama said Yanghao and I would love our new home and our new school and our new friends and we'd be so happy and everything would be all right.
At that café, I felt like I was being squeezed from all sides, like my skin was a onesie two sizes too small for my body, but I wanted to believe the last reason so badly I ignored the my-skin-was-too-small-for-my-body feeling and didn't ask all the questions I wanted to ask.
Now, on the bus, I'm getting a similar feeling. The bus is shrinking, or all its passengers are mushrooming into giants, or both. Everything is closing in on me. I squirm, but my elbow jabs someone who says, "Ouch!" and when I turn to make sure I haven't jabbed anyone in the eye, my backpack swings into someone who says,
Everything will be all right, Jingwen. Everything will be all right.
But the horrible feeling gets stronger and unbearable. It's no longer a too-tight onesie but something worse.
I squeeze past arms and backpacks to get to the back door of the bus. "Come on, Yanghao!"
Somewhere behind me, Yanghao shouts, "Wait, Jingwen! What are you doing?"
I don't stop. The humans glare and cluck their tongues at the two little aliens barging through.
When I reach the door of the bus, I have no idea how far we are from school. I'll never tell Yanghao this, since he'll tattle to Mama that he's afraid I might get us both lost: I never count the nine stops from the station to school like Mama taught me to. Many students from the school take this bus. All I have to do is relax and let the crowd of students jostle me and Yanghao off the bus, through the school gates, and down the hallways, like we're tiny fish in a giant school of fish.
"Are we there yet?" Yanghao calls out. A second later he pops out of the tight bunch of people, like a slippery pickle popping out of a Macca's cheeseburger. "Macca's," I recently learned, is the Australian way of saying McDonald's.
"Not yet," I say. "But now we'll be the first to get off when we reach the stop."
I keep staring out the door. After what seems like ten centuries, students who are seated get up and I know the next stop is it. I tap my bus card on the machine. It makes a series of loud beeps instead of just one, which means my bus card is low on value and I need to refill it soon, and everyone on the bus now knows that. With each beep, the python squeezes tighter.
When the door finally opens, I burst out like a baby calf shooting out of a mother cow's bottom. I don't mean to be disgusting, but animal documentaries are all I have to watch on TV here on Mars. There are other shows, of course, including ones we also have back in our old home, like SpongeBob SquarePants but in Martian, Ben 10 but in Martian, Pokémon but in Martian ... Same but different.
Yanghao and I can't follow all those shows in Martian. He doesn't mind being bamboozled, because he's only nine. But I'm already almost twelve and too old to fumble through life, so I'd rather not make myself feel stupid by watching something I can't understand that everyone else can follow. So I watch the animal shows. Both aliens and humans don't know what the wolf is howling or what the meerkat is chittering, so it doesn't matter that I can't understand what the voice-over man says or that I probably get a few details wrong.
Yesterday's documentary was about a lamb who thought it was a dog. Since I didn't catch a word of Martian uttered on the show, I don't know how the lamb ended up living with a few golden retrievers in someone's house in the city. But it did everything the dogs did.
Most importantly, its bleat sounded almost like a dog's bark.
The golden retrievers didn't even know the lamb wasn't a lamb. Maybe they knew — no one will ever know for sure — but they treated the lamb like it was one of them. Not an outsider. Not an alien. That's what I have to do to not be an alien among the humans. I have to speak the same as them.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Pie in the Sky"
Copyright © 2019 Remy Lai.
Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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