Little White Duck

a Childhood in China

by Na Liu and Andrés Vera Martínez

A beautifully illustrated book where the author reminisces growing up in China just after the Cultural Revolution. She depicts stories from her parent’s youth, and her bafflement at the death of Chairman Mao (adults weeping all around her at the loss). Traditional celebrations, New Year’s events, her youthful enthusiasm for school and doing her part to help rid the town of pests- in this case rats, because sparrows had all been nearly exterminated. This was a deliberate (and encouraged) killing of animals, but there’s another incident where the narrator and her sister have well-meaning intentions to give someone’s baby chicks water in the heat, but accidentally do them harm. My favorite part was in the final pages, the titular story where she goes with her father to visit his mother’s family in a poor rural village. She wants to wear her best coat and is advised not to, but insists. She’s shocked to see how different things are in the village, where people have very little and struggle day to day. The grandmother appears sullen and mean. The children outside- where Na is sent to play- are muddy and rough. Their idea of fun is to casually torture live insects. Na is appalled, and upset at how dirty her nice coat gets (especially when the curious children want to touch it, enthralled by the lovely texture it initially has). Realization of how much she has at home sinks in. Earlier lessons on avoiding food waste, and helping to plant the rice, seem to mean more now, too.

This is a slender graphic novel, and while it’s about a child, I don’t know if I’d read it to children- a lot of the nuances might go over their heads, and the part with the insects is rather upsetting- it made me feel distinctly taken aback. (It also for some reason brought vividly to mind the book A Child of the Northeast). Sensitive kids would probably have a similar reaction. But I don’t think this was necessarily written for children. And the pictures really are lovely.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
108 pages, 2012

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All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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