Ni hao. The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson kicks off in China, where Sixth Cousin Wong lives with her family. Her father lives away from home, but he calls for her and her mom to come to America to be with him; before she leaves, Sixth Cousin gets a new name—Shirley Temple Wong. Shirley and her mom take a long trip to San Francisco, then to Brooklyn. Things are way different from China, but Shirley's determined to make her way in NYC. She goes out to get her dad's cigarettes, but gets lost and her dad has to come rescue her.
When Shirley starts fifth grade at the local school, she has no clue what's going on. She misunderstands a lot of gestures, and there's a big language barrier since she doesn't speak much English. Shirley tags along behind some kids for lunch. By April, though, Shirley still hasn't made any friends. She's super lonely and wants to be included in games so badly.
When a boy asks her to play stickball, she plays enthusiastically, if poorly. She gets embarrassed and doesn't really make any friends… and then trouble comes when she gets into a fight with the biggest girl in the grade, Mabel. Shirley knows ratting Mabel out won't help her case, though, so she doesn't speak up. And guess what? As a result, Mabel befriends her and brings her into play stickball. Go figure.
Shirley has a good summer and is really into Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers. Baseball bonds her and her new friends, though it's hard to keep up with the games when she's helping around the house. Come fall, there's a new girl in class—Emily—and Shirley befriends her. They quickly becomes best buds, though Shirley begins to miss China a bit and is afraid that she's leaving her origins behind.
Ultimately, Shirley gets to give Jackie Robinson the key to her school at the end of the year Christmas Assembly. She's excited about her future in America and has learned to keep up her connection with her Chinese heritage, foreshadowing a bright future.