We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2015 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, as well as reading challenges that we have pledged to join this year.
We have just launched our new reading theme for May-June: Walking the Literary Silk Road – China and the Middle East.
This graphic novel called out to me from the library book shelves. I didn’t even know about its existence until I was hunting for books that would fit our reading theme.
Mao and Me
Written and Illustrated by: Chen Jiang Hong
Published by: Enchanted Lion Books, 2008
Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
I was a little bit daunted to read this book as it seemed particularly thick but it was actually quite a very quick read. Chen Jiang Hong’s art evokes so many emotions, they are rich with memories and even scents of a lifetime that is long gone. This image below stopped me on my tracks and made me relive similar memories from my own childhood, as I did not always grow up in a privileged environment.
The text is surprisingly sparse, quite matter-of-fact, no artifice, just a plain retelling of little details that make up a life: dumplings prepared by Grandmother,
the authors’ sisters telling stories with their hands during blackouts, and bedtime stories about hungry wolves who put on mommy’s clothes to enter her house and eat her five children. And then the Cultural Revolution happened.
“A revolution,” said Chairman Mao, “is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”
Chen Jiang Hong went on to relate in powerful images how he became Mao’s dutiful little red guard with a proud red armband to signify his family’s loyalty to the revolution, and how their kind neighbor Mrs Liu who always had a “Great Rabbit” candy for him was eventually dragged into the streets, her clothes ripped, her hair cut off, because her wealth is not in keeping with the Revolution’s precepts:
When Chen Jiang Hong’s father was taken from their home for reeducation, the young boy’s longing was perfectly captured through this amazingly-distilled narrative and image:
From time to time we received a letter from Father containing a money order. At night before falling asleep, I would study the cracks in the wall by my bed. Tracing those lines, I imagined animals, people and landscapes, searching always for the outline of my father.
This is a powerful memoir that effectively conveyed much because it shared little or just enough – providing the reader spaces to imagine the fear, the uncertainty, and how it is like to just flow along life’s stream, read Mao’s Little Red Book dutifully, and draw propaganda images on classroom walls, and be taken to lands faraway through an exotic smell of perfume from strangers on a bus.
For teachers, I would recommend pairing this book with Ying Chang Compestine’s Revolution Is Not A Dinner Party. Check out my interview with Ying here.
Ying Chang Compestine is currently in Singapore now as a Keynote Speaker for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content.