Monday, January 14, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Little White Duck, a childhood in China by Na Liu and Andres Vera Martinez

One of the fun things about Cybils is reading books you might otherwise not pick up - and finding gems. I, personally, dislike graphic memoirs. I find them generally depressing, boring, and completely lacking in actual appeal to child readers. Way too many adults decide to explore their childhood through art and think the result is of interest to kids. Waaaaaay too many.

So, I was completely surprised when I found myself not only liking this book as an adult reader, but able to think of kids who would be interested in it as well. Of course, it is Graphic Universe who does a pretty good line of graphic novels; almost always something fresh and different with strong child appeal.

There are eight chapters, each one a self-contained story. Some of them are odd, some sad, some strange, some funny. Na Liu remembers mourning the death of Chairman Mao, planning how to catch rats for school, celebrating the New Year, and visiting her frightening grandmother and impoverished cousins. The stories touch on some frightening and tragic elements; famine, poverty and death, but always through the eyes of a child, not an adult.

Na Liu never falls into the trap that so many graphic memoirs do, of remembering their childhood through the eyes of an adult. She remembers as a child, with all the hopes and fears of a child. There are notes and explanations throughout, explaining Chinese customs, translating, and providing background information, but never obtrusively and never changing the tenor of the story.

Martinez' illustrations capture the stories with simple, rough drawings of the backgrounds and people. The colors are almost all earth hues, brown, green, with sharp touches of red. The panels are neatly arranged, following each story's natural progression and drawing the reader into the author's childhood. Mixing into the gray, everyday world, are Na Liu's fantastic dreams with flying storks and mythological dragons.

Verdict: While this won't be an instantly popular title, like Guinea PI or The Elsewhere Chronicles, it's a well-written, fascinating account of a childhood very foreign to most of the children in my community. With a little booktalking, it will interest a lot of kids and show them a different world.

ISBN: 9780761381150; Published 2012 by Lerner Graphic Universe; Review copy provided by the publisher for Cybils; Added to the library


Perogyo said...

This looks really good. It kind of has an "if Allen Say did graphic novels" kind of feel to me.

Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

I liked this one, too--and I think you're exactly right about Na Lius's remembering as a child. There's no distance or interpretation getting in the way. I also like the collaboration between husband (the illustrator) and wife on this one.