This was our Five in a Row book last week. It’s a timeless story about a duck who lives on a houseboat on the Yangtze River with his “mother and father and two sisters and three brothers and eleven aunts and seven uncles and forty-two cousins”. He gets separated from them one day and has to try to find his way home. The watercolor pencil pictures are as simple and sweet as the story.
I scheduled Ping for last week to go along with Chinese New Year. This National Geographic book by Carolyn Otto is a good introduction to what the holiday is about and has great photos showing the celebration.
This telling of a Chinese folk tale by Claire Huchet Bishop is one of my boys’ favorite books. The five brothers each have an unusual gift. Like many fairy tales it has a dark side that at first glance seems odd for a children’s book. The story begins with a little boy drowning when he doesn’t listen to one of the brothers. However, my boys have never seemed bothered by that part of the story or that the rest of the book really is about how the town is trying to execute the brother who they think is responsible for the death of the boy. The other brothers band together and use their gifts to save the brother who accidentally caused the boys’ death.
The illustrations are by Kurt Wiese who also did the illustrations for Ping. Interestingly, I discovered that this book has been the subject of controversy since the 1970’s and has apparently been removed from some classrooms because the illustrations depict a stereotypical view of the Chinese. (The skin is yellow and all the brothers look identical, a key part of the story.) I found that quite silly, personally. After all, yes they may all look alike but they also can do things like be set on fire without burning. It’s not exactly meant to be realistic.
This is a modern version of the Five Chinese Brothers by Kathy Tucker. Similarly the girls all have an unusual gift and have to use it to save the youngest baby sister when she is kidnapped by a dragon. It’s quite cute and illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators, Grace Lin.
These two books by Roseanne Thong are also illustrated by Grace Lin (who is the author/illustrator of many other picture books that have a Chinese-American theme). These are basic primers about color or shape but through and East meets West lens. Red is a dragon, green is bitter melon and jade, etc.
This is a beautiful retelling of a Chinese Buddhist myth. It was probably David’s favorite book of the week, possibly because it was about a monkey and possibly because it was about a trickster.
Also by Ed Young, this book is a retelling of a Chinese legend. It’s a little more sophisticated and I think it was a little beyond David’s understanding. The Dragon King has nine sons. The King hears reports about each one’s character flaws but as he goes to investigate he discovers that in fact each flaw reflects a strength of that son and he encourages the son to use that strength. Each son is represented in some way in Chinese iconography and the illustrations reflect this. (For example one who constantly sings too loud is represented by a dragon found on musical instruments.) Even though the concept was a little beyond my boys, the story kept them interested and the illustrations were worth the read. The simple black and white ink drawings and cut paper illustrations have a very traditional Chinese feel to them and are worth just looking at for themselves.
I try not to think of books as “girl” books or “boy” books but this is probably a book a girl would enjoy more than my boys. It’s about a little girl in turn of the century China who wants to go to school but who is expected to get married and have a family. It’s very much a “girl power” book but told in a nice way and with the protagonist showing respect to her family. It’s also apparently a true story with a photo of the author’s grandmother, on whom the story is based, found at the end of the book.
This is one of a series of books by Ying Chang Compestine that imagine the origins of various Chinese inventions: noodles, paper, kites and chopsticks. The books all feature the Kang brothers who manage to come up with the inventions through a series of misadventures. The brothers are clever and funny and so are the books. My boys favorite part of reading this one was coming up with their own ways of eating noodles like the Kang brothers. Read it and then serve a bowl of Ramen for lunch.
Visit Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word for great book ideas to read with your child.