This summer I’ve been plowing through young adult graphic novels with a Chinese theme, but most of them are a bit too violent or over the heads of my little kids, age 6 and 8. So today I went to our public library to see if I could find any middle grade graphic novels set in China.
And I did!
Little White Duck: A Childhood in China (Graphic Universe, 2012) is written by Na Liu and illustrated by Andres Vera Martinez. It’s a stirring book about Liu’s childhood outside Wuhan in the 1970s. I read it this afternoon and when my 8 year-old saw it, she read it, too. Later at bedtime I read it to both my 8 and 6 year-olds.
I love this book for many reasons:
1. It takes place in Hubei province, where number one son’s paternal family lives and where I spent many a cold winter two decades ago.
2. It covers some important parts of modern Chinese history: the Great Leap Forward, one child policy, Mao’s death.
3. It shows how many people in China liked Mao and benefitted from the revolution while at the same policies like the Great Leap Forward failed so miserably.
4. It discusses the differences between the big cities, small cities, and villages.
5. It celebrates the greatness of Chinese culture in holidays like the Lunar New Year.
Na Liu was born in Hubei in 1973. She and her husband (the illustrator) came up with the concept of the book, as she writes in the final pages, to show Americans what it was like to live in China during the 1970s.
My kids were mesmerized with the whole book, but especially the chapter about the four pests: roaches, rats, mosquitoes and flies (sparrows were out, but Liu wrote about those, too). I’d told them about the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution in the past, so these concepts weren’t new to them. But they would be easy to understand for anyone new to Chinese history.
The book is appropriate for kids in elementary school, even as young as five or six. I felt so fortunate to find this book and know my kids learned a ton from it.