Li Lun: Lad of Courageby Carolyn Treffinger
Banished to a mountaintop to learn to grow rice, Li Lun proves his courage as he fights the elements and his own loneliness to make his rice seedlings flourish where no one else has for generations.
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Ten-year-old Li Lun lives in the Village of Three Firs on Blue Shark Island off the coast of China with his fisherman father Teng Lung, his mother Wang Lun, and his three younger brothers and baby sister. At age ten, Li Lun is supposed to make his first voyage on the fishing boat with his father. However, the boy is strangely afraid of sea water and refuses to go. His father slaps him, calls him a coward, and banishes him to the “Sorrow Mountain” or Lao Shan with seven grains of rice. As punishment, Li Lun must plant the rice and grow seven times as many grains as he was given. From the wise man Sun Ling he learns that it will take him four moon changes or 120 days to grow the rice. But Sun Ling also reminds him, “There are other things than fishing.” Other boys of the village taunt Li Lun, but with his supplies, including a satchel of food prepared by his mother, he trudges up the mountain to brave the gulls, the rats, the wind, the rain, the sun, and his own loneliness. Will he succeed in his goal? Can Li Lun prove to be a lad of courage? This book won a Newbery Honor Award in 1948. There are references to traditional Chinese beliefs in “spirits,” but in general the story illustrates not only courage but also love, respect, adventure, hardship, and perseverance. One “professional” reviewer called it a “Flat story that contains little drama or excitement,” saying, “The boy's extraordinary accomplishment and sacrifice sounds understated to modern ears. It almost reads like child abuse.” One may not appreciate the father’s reaction, but children need to learn that life isn’t always fair, and we must be careful not to judge all the practices of other cultures from the past, and the literature which records them, by our modern sensibilities. Li Lun, Lad of Courage, though it may have little excitement, at least to kids raised on Star Wars, still exhibits a good deal of drama, and is a wonderful look into life in old China. It would make a great fictional complement to a study of Chinese history.