Calligraphy lessons become an expression of love for an Asian family in Yeh's (You're Lovable to Me) thoughtful story. Young Jasmine's grandfather, Agong, shows her how to use a brush to draw Chinese characters, and together they enter a fantasy world that seems to open out from them. A sequence of crisp cut-paper collages by Lee (Honk, Honk, Goose!) shows Jasmine flying to "the top of the highest mountain, past a dark forest and a terrible rolling river," just one step in a journey built around basic words. The Chinese characters for "mountain," "forest," and "river" are incorporated into their images, showing the sources from which they've come; the same characters also appear in standard form for comparison. After Agong dies ("And then, he was gone"), Jasmine takes up the mantle of teacher and keeps Agong's memory alive by offering lessons to her brother, Tai-Tai. "And it was just as their grandfather had said. Magic." Jasmine's journey feels somewhat arbitrary, a too-contrived introduction to Chinese characters; the book is perhaps more valuable for its portrayal of the way that—at its best—instruction offers intimacy and promise. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)
When Jasmine's grandfatheror
Agongstarts teaching her Chinese calligraphy, Jasmine never dreams how magical Agong's artwork can be. The Chinese characters he paints quickly become a magical tapestry of mountains, forests, monkeys, flying horses, and even dragons. Their calligraphy lessons enable them to have many magical adventures all through the spring, but they abruptly end in the fall when Agong falls ill and dies. Can Jasmine use the skills Agong taught her to keep his memory and the magic of Chinese calligraphy alive? Beautifully painted and poignantly told, this book presents both a whimsical story of a girl's relationship with her grandfather and a fun primer on Chinese characters that shows how the shapes of Chinese characters are designed to resemble the animals, landmarks, and other objects they describe. Teachers and librarians should consider offering this picture book, along with other books on Chinese characters and calligraphy such as Catherine Louis and Shi Bo's My Little Book of Chinese Words. Reviewer: Michael Jung, PhD
Children's Literature - Michael Jung PhD
In Chinese folklore, the theme of the artist who brings paintings to life is told again and again. In this contemporary family story, Agong ("Grandfather") teaches his Chinese-American granddaughter Jasmine calligraphy as he creates mythological creatures and wonderful worlds for Jasmine to explore while Tai-Tai, her little brother, naps. After Agong dies, she shares the skill with Tai-Tai so they can re-create their wonderful artist-grandfather. There's a lot to absorb here, and backmatter to accommodate: Chinese characters, pronunciation of Chinese words in the afterword (although the tones will be hard to repeat, despite the patient explanations) and the description of Chinese delicacies mentioned in the text. The short history of paper-cuts (used in the illustrations, along with rubber stamps and ink) will probably appeal more to adults than children. The flat designs incorporate both printed papers and key characters (which also appear in the page corners), but they never really bounce to life the way that they do in more traditional Chinese tales. Heartfelt and quite lovely, but not magical.
(Picture book. 4-7)
K-Gr 2—When Jasmine and Tai-Tai's grandfather comes to live with them in the spring, he begins to teach Jasmine how to write Chinese characters in the traditional way with brush and inkstone. As they write, Agong weaves the words into a slight but pleasant magical story that they revisit day after day. In the fall, Agong dies, and Jasmine misses him greatly. Eventually she begins to teach her younger brother the Chinese characters, beginning with the one for grandfather. The story is sweet and will appeal to children and their parents, but as an introduction to Chinese characters, it may be somewhat misleading. The character for "grandfather" is accurate, but the pinyin word "agong" is not a Mandarin word commonly used for "grandfather." Traditional characters are used throughout, though the majority are identical to the simplified ones used across China today. More problematic is the distortion of the characters in the illustrations. A note explains that this is often done with paper cutouts, which are "symbolic representations...showing the inspiration from where the character design came." While native Chinese speakers would undoubtedly recognize the characters that are part of the attractive cut-paper collages, young children new to the written language could find them confusing. Imaginative visual play with characters has been done beautifully in Christoph Niemann's The Pet Dragon (HarperCollins/Greenwillow, 2008) where the written characters imposed on the illustrations remain true to their form. That book might be a better choice for children beginning a study of the language.—Barbara Scotto, Children's Literature New England, Brookline, MA