Sunday, January 27, 2013

Book Review - Little White Duck: A Childhood in China


Little White Duck: A Childhood in China

By: Na Liu
Publisher: Graphic Universe
Publication Date: August 2012
ISBN: 978-0761365877
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: January 24, 2013

Na’s eyes widened as she pored over a book about Chinese mythology. The book was upside down, but no matter, she loved to “read” and the characters came alive for her and swirled though her mind. Na was four-years-old and lived in Wuhan, China next to the great Yangtze river. There was a bit of unexpected discord in the house and her parents started to quarrel. Her father wanted them to go visit his mother, Na’s nai nai. “We don’t owe her anything!” her mother argued. “She insisted we have another child. When it turned out to be another girl, she refused to help us.” Na would be going with baba alone to visit her.

It wasn’t something that Na wanted to do, but it was just going to be a day trip so she relented. Jia jia, her mother’s mother, had bought her a beautifully soft green coat with a “little velvet duck” sewn onto the front. Mama didn’t want her to take it to the village, but because it was her favorite she insisted and began to pout. “Aaall right! All right. Go ahead and take it.” Baba and Na began their train journey through the mountains to Longquan. Baba’s brothers welcomed him, but nai nai was frightening and mean. She went outside to see her cousins, but found they were very different. What was wrong with them and why were they interested in the little white duck?

This is an enchanting series of tales about Na Liu’s childhood in post-Maoist China. The tales are vignettes of Na, or Da Qin’s life, an ordinary life as she saw it. The pages, however, are filled with a history that is a bridge from a totalitarian-ruled country to the ever-evolving one we know today. In the short tales we get a glimpse at Chinese history that had been once hidden from the rest of the world, a history that was a part of her family. The artwork, rendered by Na’s spouse, Andrés Vera Martínez, is a stunning tribute to the extraordinary ordinary lives of children raised during that time. The panels are alive with emotion and are reflective of a multigenerational history. This book would be an excellent stepping stone for students to research several aspects of Chinese history. In the back of the book is a glossary of Mandarin Chinese words, words used in the text, a timeline (551 BCE to 1976), a brief two-page biography, translations of Chinese characters in the text, and a map of the People’s Republic of China and Hubei Province.

Quill says: This is a beautiful graphic novel that anyone interested in Chinese history will learn a great deal from!