Little White Duck

A Childhood in China
October 2012. 108p. 978-0-76136-658-7.
Gr 4 Up–Based on her childhood experiences, Na Liu and her husband have created a rich, multilayered memoir, incorporating history, geography, language, culture, and mythology into eight short stories; then weaving them together to create an exquisite tapestry of life in China during the 1970s. The work follows a logical progression, capturing youthful experiences against a broad Chinese landscape. Background information establishes each story and seamlessly segues into personal reminiscence, with excellent interweaving of each section. For example, the introductory dream sequence features Na Liu and her sister flying on a crane’s back over panoramic China. The first narrative panel depicts the girls’ awakening, with a painting of a white crane visible behind their bed. Mythological origins of New Year transition into an account of the family’s celebration, with red banners and a dragon puppet echoing the colors and patterns from the previous holiday description. Scenes of daily life are juxtapostioned against the political climate, retelling simple stories through comic panels that can be enjoyed by young readers, but also delivering interesting perspectives and biting commentary on social issues. The grim realities of government propaganda, social class, and family dynamics make the memoir even more poignant. Humor, as well as the plays on words, enlivens many of the sections. The children’s expressive faces provide a personal reaction to these contrasting points of view. This picturesque treasure introduces Chinese culture through a personal perspective that is both delightful and thought-provoking.–Babara M. Moon, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, NY
Wife-and-husband team Na Liu and Andrés Vera Martínez use a graphic-novel format to bring Liu’s childhood in 1970s Wuhan, China, to life for contemporary children. Much will seem the same -- family life with a younger sister, school, a visit with a semi-scary grandmother -- but the particulars in the eight vignettes included here make all the difference. Liu recalls her uncontrollable (and uncomprehending) sobbing at the death of a "grandpa" she did not really know, Chairman Mao; creativity and finally subterfuge is required when her teacher commands each student to bring in four rat tails as evidence of participation in the government campaign to rid the country of vermin. Illustrator Martínez gleefully pictures the sisters’ elaborate fantasies for rat-trapping (like putting a soybean up the butt of one rat, sending it into a frenzy that will cause it to kill the rest of the pack) as well as their eventual mutual admittance that they can’t even touch a rat to sever the required tail ("EEEYuu! GROSS!"). Author and illustrator together give us an unvarnished and intimate account of a real childhood: plain-speaking, rough-hewn, and very much down-to-earth. While the time and place the book depicts are very different from our own, there’s not a hint of sentimentality or exoticism: the scene where the mother shames the girls into cleaning their plates by telling them the real story about starving children in China is simultaneously horrifying and hilarious. A glossary, a chronology, and an author’s note provide context. roger sutton

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Community matters. Stay up to date on breaking news, trends, reviews, and more.

Get access to 6000+ annual reviews of books, databases, and more

As low as $12/month