Books Buffet of Asian Literature - Makan! CORL (Check Off your Reading List) Challenge 2014 GB Challenges Non-fiction Wednesday Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Nonfiction Wednesday] A Chinese Scholar, Environmentalist, and Revolutionary: Su Dongpo by Demi

Myra here.

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We are excited to join Kidlit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year. Right now we are having a “Buffet of Asian Literature: Makan! Let’s Eat! Kain Tayo!” theme until end of June. We are featuring either Asian-themed titles or food-related themes in books. While I am not featuring anything food-related for this week, Su Dongpo is definitely Asian-themed.

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I have not heard of Su Dongpo until I read this book written and illustrated by the highly-prolific Demi. I am constantly fascinated by picturebook biographies and how they manage to provide at such striking glance the life story narrative of an individual which I am sure must have taken months or years for the author/illustrator to research.

There is an Author’s foreword that provides some information about this Chinese genius who lived between 1036 til 1101. He is believed to embody the “heart and soul of Chinese culture” and wore many hats when he was still living: “He was a statesman, philosopher, poet, painter, engineer, architect, and humanitarian who approached everything with joy and grace.” 

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Demi’s books are veritable works of art, as you can see above. There is elegance and delicacy in the book’s general layout and design with lots of blank spaces for the eyes to rest. Unlike other picturebooks, this one is text-heavy with direct quotations from other scholars and researchers (such as Ouyang Xiu and Lin Yutang) and their views about Su Dongpo. It would have been nice if there was  a detailed Afterword that indicated who Xiu and Yutang are and how they knew about Su Dongpo, and perhaps more detailed backstory or information about the places where Su Dongpo was exiled.

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What came through for me in this story is how diligent and persevering Su Dongpo was even as a child, as you can see in the image above. He was thorough and meticulous and literally burned the midnight oil copying manuscripts, practicing his calligraphy, writing poetry. I also smiled as Demi described the examination system in China as can be seen in the image below:

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As I read the story, I discovered that he was also an environmentalist (he loved nature and was always attuned with the majestic beauty of his surroundings) and quite the revolutionary too. He stood up for what he believed to be just and true, regardless of whether it would make him unpopular and would be consequently exiled by speaking his mind.

I am amazed by Su Dongpo’s resilience, his fortitude, and his unwavering desire to be of service to people. I was also enchanted by his poetry as you can see below:

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If you don’t know this book yet, find it. It is a thing of beauty.

Su Dongpo by Demi. Published by Lee & Low Books, Inc., 2006. Book borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

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Reading Challenge Update: 122 (25)

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Nonfiction PictureBook Challenge: 13 of 25

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Singapore. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she serves as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads or meeting up with her book club friends, she is smashing that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life.

4 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] A Chinese Scholar, Environmentalist, and Revolutionary: Su Dongpo by Demi

  1. I love Asian art and most DEFINITELY Chinese Food! Looking forward to this, Myra 😀

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  2. Another book with brilliant illustrations! You have a talent for finding those! Thanks for sharing 🙂

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  3. I don’t think I’ve ever read any Demi books but I really should. I’ve only heard good things about them, especially the art.

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  4. I do know some of Demi’s books, but not this one. It of course is beautiful, but the story is one that can be shared for its inspiration from long ago. Thanks Myra.

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