More than three decades after his death at age 32, Bruce Lee (1940-1973) remains a martial arts legend. Mochizuki and Lee, whose previous works of historical fiction (Baseball Saved Us; Heroes) offered riveting perspectives on the Asian and Asian-American experience here trace the past of this fascinating figure, who straddled the cultures of Hong Kong and America. The team's narrative and artwork remain as vivid as ever; Lee's sepia-toned, almost photographically detailed illustrations set an album-like mood that perfectly matches Mochizuki's careful chronological account of Lee's life from his childhood in Hong Kong to his emigration to America at age 18. A bright boy and a voracious reader, Bruce was restless at school and teased by his peers until martial arts provided him with discipline and a spiritual epiphany. Puzzled by his teacher's remark, "There is even gentleness in the martial arts," young Bruce finally understands it while sitting alone in a boat ("Water, the softest substance on Earth, could never be hurt because it offered no resistance. But with enough force it could break through anything in the world"). Mochizuki and Lee are compelling storytellers, but the facts of Bruce Lee's early years still pale in comparison to what he accomplished as an action movie star (briefly covered in an afterword). Still, the overall message of what can be accomplished, even by the least eager student, with dedication and passion, may well be encouraging to readers. Ages 6-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
- Greg M. Romaneck
Bruce Lee has attained cult status as one of the finest martial arts experts ever to appear in film or other media. Yet, in looking back at Bruce Lee's childhood, few could have predicted this rise to celebrity status. The child of a humble Hong Kong family, Bruce Lee gave no initial evidence of exceptional skill in the martial arts. Then, after fortuitously finding a skilled teacher, Lee began to master the intricacies of this demanding practice. Early on in his studies, as writer Ken Mochizuki notes in this excellent picture book, Lee struggled to control his anger. Then, under the tutelage of his master, Lee understood that, like water, one could create stunning results without anger, aggression, or rancor. Eventually this lesson hit home and became a touchstone for Bruce Lee's martial arts practice. Here, in Be Water, My Friend, youngsters are offered a thoughtful look at the childhood of a man who eventually became a noteworthy martial artist. The text and imagery of this book combine to tell a moving story of a youngster who conquered his anger and taught his passion to become a source of strength. This is a fascinating look at a man whose premature death cut short a promising and long-lasting career.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 2-This picture-book biography is a gentle tribute to a martial-arts legend. The story follows Lee from his birth in San Francisco through his youth in Hong Kong. His family life, impatience with school, and legal troubles are touched upon, as is his growing passion for martial arts. The writing is clear for the most part, but can be awkward in places. Feelings and thoughts abound. For example, "Gentleness? Bruce asked himself for the hundredth time," and, "Angry with himself, Bruce punched the water." In an appended note, Mochizuki explains that since so little is known about his subject's youth, "some events are extensions of the facts-." The brown-and-white illustrations, scratched through beeswax melted over acrylic on paper, are lovely and play an important role in moving the narrative along. Lee, who is often pictured wearing thick glasses, is shown interacting with family members, taking on opponents, and spending time in quiet contemplation. The book ends when Lee, at age 18, boarded a ship bound for America. The rest of his life is given a one-page summary. A fine introduction.-Anne Chapman Callaghan, Racine Public Library, WI Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Mochizuki chronicles the famed and iconic actor's early life for young readers. Bruce Lee was actually born in San Francisco, while his father was touring with the Cantonese Opera Company. He grew up in Hong Kong, restless and argumentative, but loving to read and dance. He studied martial arts, including the hard lessons of yielding and suppleness. The title, a quote from Lee, recognizes how water cannot be grabbed, shattered or hurt, but it can wear down anything. His study of martial arts led to a boxing championship, which led to more fights, so at 18, his parents sent him to San Francisco. The illustrations are dramatic and effective: Lee uses encaustic over acrylic on paper, and scratches the images in the wax. The results are rich sepia-toned images with great depth; Lee looks rather nerdy in his early years, which will no doubt lend appeal. The narrative language is somewhat stilted, but clear. A brief page of facts continues the story through stardom and early death. (Picture book/biography. 7-12)