Sunday, February 10, 2013

Little White Duck by Na Liu and Andrés Vera Martínez

Since today marks the lunar new year, I've chosen a sweet children's story set in contemporary China. Kung hei fat choy! (Happy New Year!)

Little White Duck is a memoir of a childhood in China, created in graphic novel format by a wife and husband team, Na Liu and Andres Vera Martin. Martin's artwork captures a handful of Liu's recollections about the period when she was between the ages of four and seven. The first chapter -- 'A Sad, Sad Day' -- is about the death of Chairman Mao in 1976. Thousands of people gathered to mourn and Liu, who had not even known that she had a Grandpa Mao, remembers crying because everyone around her was so very sad.

Na Liu was born in Wuhan in 1973 and moved to the U.S. as an adult. Life in China has been changing so quickly that Liu realized her early experiences were unique to her generation. Nowadays, "life in a large Chinese city is like life in any other city in the world. For the most part, modern Chinese children wear the same sorts of clothes, play the same video games, eat the same fast food, watch similar TV programs, and play the same sports, such as soccer and basketball" as children in New York, London or Tokyo. She believes, "it's possible that someday the only records we have of how cultures and countries were once very different from one another will be in books like this one."

The text is brief, but look at all the details in just these two illustrations: the fact that cleaning includes the common areas of the apartment; New Year decorations being hung; the red kerchief around Liu's neck; her little sister's paper toy lion; red money envelopes; and the way the lion-monster's head is supported by two people, one on the other's shoulders. The muted colour palette strikes the right nostalgic note. A brief glossary at the back translates the few Mandarin words, and there are even translations of Chinese characters. In the bottom illustration, for example, "the red banners around the doorways are poetry with wishes for good fortune, such as 'Everything you try to do will be successful' and 'Every year will be better and better.'" Nice!

Suitable for Grade 3 and up.

Readalike: Marzi by Marzena Sowa.

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