The Garden of Empress Cassia

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When Mimi is given a box of magical pastels, she discovers that she can draw the Garden of Empress Cassia. But the pastels are ancient, mysterious and powerful, and in the wrong hands, can be very dangerous.

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When Mimi is given a box of magical pastels, she discovers that she can draw the Garden of Empress Cassia. But the pastels are ancient, mysterious and powerful, and in the wrong hands, can be very dangerous.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Michael Jung PhD
Being Chinese-Australian does not sit very well with twelve-year-old Mimi Lu, who feels her Chinese heritage makes her the target of racist bullies at her school and the recipient of unwanted pressure from her father, who believes she should spend all of her time on her schoolwork rather than her true love—painting. But when Mimi's art teacher Miss O'Dell gives Mimi a set of beautiful pastels, suddenly Mimi finds that her artistic talents and pure heart allow her to draw the Garden of Empress Cassia—the magical realm of a legendary Chinese empress (and the original owner of the pastels) where visitors find both peace and the courage to live their dreams. Soon, Mimi's painting becomes the talk of the town, as certain viewers find they can be transported into the painting where they experience the wonders of the garden for themselves. But the pastels can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and when a jealous rival steals Mimi's magical tools, Mimi must find the thief before she uses the pastels to unleash something horrible. Notably, where other writers would start with their protagonists completely clueless about their heritage before "magically" discovering it through such experiences, Wang allows Mimi to begin the story familiar with Chinese customs and language, although she tries to hide this knowledge. Thus, the story focuses more on Mimi's acceptance and appreciation of her culture, and feels more realistic for it. Readers will also be pleased to find that, like all good fairy tales, The Garden of Empress Cassia does not pull any punches when punishing its villains, and the thief who stole the pastels is given a fitting punishment for her crime. Reviewer: Michael Jung, PhD
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Mimi Lu, 12, is a Chinese-Australian schoolgirl who experiences racial slurs and is called Smelly-Loo by her classmates, who make fun of what she brings for lunch. Her father's work as a traditional herbalist solidifies the cultural divide. He takes an extended trip to visit a dying relative at the same time that a sympathetic teacher gives Mimi a box of mysterious Empress Cassia Pastels, and her life changes overnight. Mrs. Lu opens a pop-up teahouse in her husband's absence, and Mimi begins to draw strangely compelling sidewalk art. The garden in the title is a magical place in Chinese legend. In the hands of a chosen few, it is a living piece of art that can be entered into through good or evil. The good return transformed by the experience, but the evil do not return. When mean girl Gemma steals the pastels, she discovers the negative side of the magic they contain. Some generic race-against-time plot twists finish up the story, which includes a popular boy who becomes a fast friend for Mimi, and her father returning from his trip gentler and more accepting of Western ways. The descriptions of the garden and the author's drawings of the places within it offer readers an opportunity to flex their own imaginations.—Lisa Egly Lehmuller, St. Patrick's Catholic School, Charlotte, NC
Kirkus Reviews

Using a box of enchanted pastels, 12-year-old Chinese-Australian Mimi Lu creates a fantasy garden with supernatural properties.

Mimi's relationship with her parents is frustratingly superficial, until her father leaves to attend his dying brother. Oblivious to the bullying she faces at school, he pressures her only to succeed. After her art teacher recognizes her talent and pain and gives her the ancient pastels of Chinese Empress Cassia, she immerses herself in drawing a beautiful garden on the sidewalk. Those in emotional pain can magically step into the garden and be healed. Working together, Mimi and her mother offer tea to the crowd that forms around the garden, shared work resolving their emotional distance. But Mimi's worst bully steals the pastels, potentially deadly in the wrong hands, and she must try to get them back. Partly because of this Australian import's sheer brevity, only Mimi springs to life. Other characters are nearly colorless, and often stereotypical. While the bicultural issues Mimi faces offer a rich canvas for potential exploration—never fully developed—resolution of her problems comes too readily and predictably. Tiny, attractive pencil sketches begin each chapter, but don't add measurably to the presentation.

Hinting of a spell of unearthly enchantment with its mystical healing garden and the good-hearted artist that creates it, this effort offers promise but ultimately is more charcoal sketch than pastel panorama. (Magical realism. 9-12)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781610670494
  • Publisher: Kane/Miller Book Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/1/2012
  • Series: Fiction Series
  • Pages: 112
  • Sales rank: 1,025,615
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 690L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 4.80 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 23, 2011

    A Refreshing Read

    This novel is meant for young readers, the vocabulary is easily understandable to children and the concepts are simplified. Mimi, the main character, doesn't like being and feeling different than the other children. She just wants to fit in. The author makes the reader believe that he/she is truly reading about an eleven-year-old child. The plot is very different and the reader will enjoy reading about the pastels and the ups and downs of using them. The story is very creative and is sure to capture a child's interest and keep his/her attention. This novel is recommended for young children.

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