Monday, August 31, 2015

Spotlight: Exploring Chinese History through Picture Books

I stumbled upon these books at the library and knew I had to bring the three of them home.  Asian Heritage Month was just this passed May and here's a little something that I wanted to share.

Ming's Adventure in the Forbidden City
written & illustrated by Li Jian
translated by Yijin Wert

On a trip to the Forbidden City, Ming gets separated from his father and is somehow transported to the Qing Dynasty.

While there, he meets the Little Emperor and they become friends. Ming shares stories about things from his time and the Little Emperor takes him on a tour of the Forbidden City.

But how will Ming get back to his time and his family?


Ming's Adventure in the Forbidden City is a very cute picture book.  It's very whimsical and fun so expect the tone to be light.

What's pretty cool about this book is that while it is in English, it also carries another text written in Chinese characters (i.e. hanzi).  It's so important to have books like this, which simultaneously makes a culture more accessible to children and it introduces a new language (that may be their parent's first language).

If there had been books like this in my youth but with Portuguese text?  I would have had an easier time reading and constructing sentences in that language.


Ming's Adventure with the Terracotta Army
written & illustrated by Li Jian
translated by Yijin Wert

A new exhibit has opened up in town featuring the Terracotta Army.  Ming and his Mom go to the museum to see them.  At the end of their day, Ming's Mom buys him a small figure to remember the day.

At the stroke of midnight that night, the figure of the terracotta general comes to life.


Another light and sweet adventure in this one.  In this one, we do not get the corresponding Chinese text.  I thought that was a bit of a loss since it made it unique.

What we do get is historical information explaining what was found in the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuang and much more.  Fun information to share with the little ones.  The text is a little awkward to read though.  It does not have a strong enough flow.


Mulan: A Story in Chinese and English
written & illustrated by Li Jian
translated by Yijin Wert

One day, soldiers arrive in the village and ask for a man from each family to enlist in the army.  China needs defending.

To protect her father, who is too old to fight, Fa Mulan dresses up as a boy and leaves to join the army in his place.  For 12 years, she dedicates her life to fighting the threat and protecting China.


It is a short picture book so the story seems very rushed for me.  I would have liked to have it drawn out a bit more and filled in in some places.

Its length would make more sense if I knew it was just a direct translation of the original folktale but that was not made clear in the book.  This one also has the Chinese text with its corresponding English translation.

Overall, still a stunning picture book that is a great read. The story of Fa Mulan will always be an exciting one and I'm glad to see it retold here.


Li Jian has plenty of other books in English too.  This post was only a glimpse into the author's work and I hope you will check the other out.  Here is a fine little list over at Goodreads.

I have also included a video from the Royal Ontario Museum of their Forbidden City exhibit.  I actually got to see it with my own eyes and it was wonderful.

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