Mei Mei, an immigrant child from Hong Kong, loves New York City's Chinatown, where she feels comfortable. There the sights and sounds are familiar, and everyone speaks Chinese, just like Mei Mei. In school, however, everyone speaks English, and though Mei Mei can learn it, she doesn't want to. "Such a lonely language. Each letter stands alone and makes its own noise." Afraid that she will forget Chinese, and that she will be changed by a language so different, one that even contains words (such as "covered wagon") that don't exist in Chinese, Mei Mei resists — until a caring teacher shows her that she can speak both languages and still be herself.
Ellen Levine is the author of many popular books for children, both fiction and nonfiction. In creating the story of Mei Mei, she drew from her own experiences working with New York's Chinatown Planning Council. Beloved illustrator Steve Bjorkman uses his trademark cartoon pictures to make Mei Mei's inner conflict as vivid as the bustling world of Chinatown. In I Hate English! Levine successfully captures an important aspect of the immigrant experience, and tells the story in a simplistic, yet realistic manner.