Tuesday, February 06, 2007

In time for Chinese New Year

Shanghai Messenger, by Andrea Cheng (2005)
The House of Sixty Fathers, by Meindert de Jong (1956)
China's Bravest Girl: The Legend of Hua Mu Lan, by Charlie Chin (1993)

In delicate watercolors and simple "free-verse prose," Shanghai Messenger tells the story of a modern 11-year-old Chinese-American girl who is sent to China to visit her mother's family. She spends several weeks in Shanghai, meeting many uncles and "aunties", learning to cook and eat new foods, and walking in old city gardens where her great-grandfather's calligraphy is carved in stone. Loneliness, illness, and jet lag are also a part of her vacation, but when she comes home to America, she finds she misses the noise and interests of the great foreign city. "Where is the market, the honking horns, the farmers' shouting?" she wonders as she looks out at placid suburbia. It's a beautiful and not sugary-sweet book.

For a different look at an earlier China, try Meindert de Jong's The House of Sixty Fathers. This novel follows the frightening adventures of a young boy in war-torn 1930s China, who is separated from his family after the Japanese army destroys their village. With only a small pig for company, Tien Pao must make his way home through a countryside teeming with hungry refugees and bristling with soldiers.

Both of these books are illustrated by well-known artists: Shanghai Messenger's watercolors are by Caldecott winner Ed Young, and The House of Sixty Fathers features pen drawings by Maurice Sendak, of Where the Wild Things Are fame. And if you would like still more on China, try the vividly illustrated poem -- in Chinese and English -- China's Bravest Girl, by Charlie Chin. This tells the story of the teenage girl general, Hua Mu Lan, who went to war to defend her country in place of her elderly father. Of course, you can also check out the Disney movie on the same subject.

No comments: