Circle of Cranes

( 1 )


A lyrical fantasy blending fairy tale elements with contemporary issues

Thirteen-year-old Suyin is a poor orphan who has a strange gift with languages and a mysterious connection to the cranes in her small Chinese village. When a shady human trafficker arrives promising luxury and riches beyond belief in America, the villagers elect Suyin - whom they consider lucky - to go as their benefactress. But instead of luxury, Suyin is forced to work in a sweatshop in New York City's ...

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Circle of Cranes

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A lyrical fantasy blending fairy tale elements with contemporary issues

Thirteen-year-old Suyin is a poor orphan who has a strange gift with languages and a mysterious connection to the cranes in her small Chinese village. When a shady human trafficker arrives promising luxury and riches beyond belief in America, the villagers elect Suyin - whom they consider lucky - to go as their benefactress. But instead of luxury, Suyin is forced to work in a sweatshop in New York City's Chinatown. Suyin's future seems hopeless, until her beloved cranes arrive and reveal that she is no ordinary girl - instead, she is the daughter of the Crane Queen. Now her mother's life is in danger, and Suyin must prove herself worthy of her position as the Crane Princess, in order to save her mother and the entire clan of cranes.

For fans of Grace Lin and Laurence Yep, this is a beautiful story of the meaning of family and finding one's true path in life.

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Editorial Reviews

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"The book has strong curricular value, with concise and accessible explorations of labor politics, exploitative economies, and global immigration issues; in addition, the information about heritage crafts and feminine subcultures in China is fascinating. The thread of female solidarity and friendship is a significant appeal factor, giving the book a great deal of warmth."
"Inspired by the folktale 'The Crane Wife,' this novel engagingly melds an immigrant story with folklore and fantasy."
School Library Journal
Gr 7–10—On his deathbed, Suyin's grandfather, angry at his dead daughter-in-law, demands that the child be forbidden to learn embroidery, despite the fact that as a member of the Miao minority group in Guizhou Province, China, her worth as a woman is based on her skills with a needle. When her village chooses the 13-year-old to be smuggled to America, she feels even more rejected. After a treacherous voyage in the cargo hold of a ship, she ends up in a New York sweatshop, working to pay off her debt to the smugglers. What keeps her going is her desire to prove her worth to the Sisterhood of Cranes—a secret society of women who can transform into birds and keep the world of people and nature connected. Suyin's tribulations offer a glimpse into the horrifying world of human trafficking and sweatshops. Her time with the Sisterhood balances the horror of her daily life and gives her strength to help with the garment workers' strike, which leads to a tidier and happier ending than most children with paths similar to Suyin's experience. While many elements of the narrative structure and story will appeal to younger readers, the brutality and violence that the girl endures, especially as a friend takes a job at a seedy massage parlor, requires more mature readers.—Jennifer Rothschild, Prince George's County Memorial Library System, Oxon Hill, MD
Kirkus Reviews
The horror of sweatshop life is alleviated by a magical heritage. Suyin doesn't want to go to America, but the people of her romanticized, 21st-century Chinese village want someone who can send American dollars back to fund schools and electricity. Almost immediately, it becomes clear that the smuggler bringing her to Gold Mountain is a liar. She's not traveling on a cruise ship with "first-class accommodations [and] twelve-course banquets" but on a "rickety rust bucket" too small for the passengers and unsafe for the open ocean. The perilous journey Suyin makes with her fellow passengers, mostly other girls, doesn't end with safety. When they arrive in New York City, the girls spend 14-hour-days in an overheated sweatshop. Meanwhile, Suyin tries to be worthy of her crane ancestors, who tell her in visions and dreams that she is the last crane princess; without her help, the magical crane women are doomed. Can she be worthy of both the cranes, who need a savior to rescue their queen from the netherworld, and her fellow laborers, who need a leader to demand eight months of unpaid wages? The confusing worldbuilding is a mashup of careful details about some of China's ethnic minorities combined willy-nilly with elements from other eras, other parts of China and vast oversimplifications. Inexplicably, Suyin's magical heritage comes from a Japanese folk tale. The magical element doesn't add much to this story of a low-key labor heroine, but it may draw in fantasy readers. (Fantasy. 10-13)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803734432
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication date: 4/12/2012
  • Pages: 256
  • Age range: 10 - 11 Years
  • Lexile: 720L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.86 (w) x 8.32 (h) x 1.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Annette LeBox is an environmental activist who divides her time between Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada, and a remote cabin in the Caribou grasslands.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 21, 2012

    more from this reviewer

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    CIRCLE OF CRANES is based on an old Asian folktale you may have

    CIRCLE OF CRANES is based on an old Asian folktale you may have never heard of, The Crane Wife. While the most well-known version of the tale is Japanese, there are various renditions of the tale in other Asian cultures as well. Annette LeBox reveals the tale as she writes for anyone unfamiliar with the story and weaves lore of women who can turn into cranes into a sophisticated story full of truth as it reveals the grit and crime of the world's underbelly. I'll admit that for most of the time I was reading, I labored under the wrong impression that I was reading historical fantasy from the turn of the twentieth century as immigrants flocked to the melting pot of the US in unsavory conditions in order to prosper. Sweatshops and labor strikes flourished at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, and that's what I thought I was reading. It wasn't until the end when one character has a cell phone that I thought, "Huh, that's odd." It turns out that LeBox has woven her novel around a smuggling incident that occurred in British Columbia, Canada in 1999/2000, where ships were intercepted and shown to be inhumane, the passengers in the worst of conditions. She also looks in-depth at the "intimidation methods used by human smugglers toward undocumented garment workers in the sweatshops of Chinatown, New York" (pg. 338). I had no clue that such places still existed today and that in some ways, life never evolved. The thought is horrifying.

    Lebox's blog features more articles involving her detailed research into CIRCLE OF CRANES. She also talks about her trip to China, where she discovered the Miao Minority in Guizhou, which she calls "the poorest and least visited province in China." The area very much follows the ways of the past, having never modernized, which is one reason I thought I was in Ancient China when reading about Cao Hai Lake at the book's beginning. There is a custom that girls must be exquisite embroiderers. If they aren't, they have less of a dowry and can't make a good marriage.

    In CIRCLE OF CRANES, main character Suyin is forbidden to learn embroidery. Her grandfather thinks her mother's embroidery ensnared and ruined his son. This lowers her prospects at marriage and a good life. With two parents and her grandparents dead, Suyin bounces from house to house with no permanent home. When a Snakehead (What the Chinese call human smugglers) comes and offers to take one person from the village to the United States in exchange for payment, the village chooses Suyin. She's promised a cruise ship and streets paved with gold, only to find herself crushed into the belly of a dinky boat crammed three-to-a-bed, with little food and too many rats. In New York, she's locked away in a safehouse, and seldom paid for her labor. There are hired thugs willing to kill if immigrants attempt escape without repaying their debt. On top of that, most of the workers were paid between $1-$3 USD, which is despicable and well below minimum wage.

    Suyin suffers in the new world, hating that she and her entire village have been duped. Back home, she had an encounter with cranes and was told that she was to undertake a quest, able to one day turn into a crane herself. In New York, the cranes teach her how to embroider, and she slowly tries to improve her circumstances and take her place in the world, to both fulfill her quest to become one with her crane sisters and stand up for what's fair for the friends laboring with her in the slums of New York.

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