Little White Duck: A Childhood in China

The world is changing for two girls in China in the 1970s. Da Qin—Big Piano—and her younger sister, Xiao Qin—Little Piano—live in the city of Wuhan with their parents. For decades, China’s government had kept the country separated from the rest of the world. When their country’s leader, Chairman Mao, dies, new opportunities begin to emerge. Da Qin and Xiao Qin soon learn that their childhood will be much different than the upbringing their parents experienced. -
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Graphic Universe
Minneapolis, MN
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Average: 5 (2 votes)


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Insightful visual novel, perfect for readers of all ages

Field of Interest/Specialty: Studio Art & Art History
Posted On: 09/09/2015

Little White Duck
Reviewed by Kachina Martin, Studio Art & Art History instructor at Muhlenberg High School; grades 10-12
This book was recommended to me by Middle School teacher at an NCTA sponsored gathering; my initial sense was that this text might be too simplistic for the High School level, but borrowed the text as I was immediately hooked by the beautiful drawings. As a Studio Art teacher, I am always seeking works beyond the European tradition to use as examples for my students. This text is a wonderful example of an effective visual novel, with easy to read typography and clean, clear drawings that illustrate the stories being shared. The stories in the book are biographical, based on the Na Lui’s recollections of her childhood in Wuhan, China. Born in 1973, the author’s stories take place between 1976 and 1980. After moving to the United States in her twenties, and traveling back to China to see the tremendous changes that had occurred, Lui realized that her childhood was very unique, growing up at a time in which “China was slowly opening up to the world both economically and culturally … a generation caught between one way of life and another, between the old and the new.”
This text offers a unique and different way to engage students in Chinese history, and I have used the text in both my studio classes as well as in a course entitled Global Studies, an Honors level team-taught course addressing art, literature, history and music for 11th grade students. For students in either class, the text offers an interesting way in which to introduce or review the elements and principles of art by asking students to offer a formalist review of teacher-selected pages. Pages 10 and 11 are a wonderful visual introduction to the art of China as the author and her sister ride atop the back of a crane, surveying the landscape below. Beautifully rendered images of the Chinese temples as well as more modern looking buildings encourage students to appreciate that China is a complex mix of old and new, and the images of Mao Zedong and Li Bai in the bottom corners of the page prompt questions of who these men are as the information provided by the author is written in Chinese characters. Later pages reveal the reverence Lui’s family felt for Mao; Li Bai was a Chinese poet from the Tang dynasty. By juxtaposing the images of these two men, the author is suggesting that both men served as exemplars of great figures in Chinese history. Students will also be introduced to Lei Feng and his namesake day on March 5th (page 47), who inspire Lui and her sister to behave generously and selflessly towards others. But who is Lei Feng? Who he was and how the author characterizes him is an interesting study in which to engage older students, and encourage students to be critical readers, not only in determining who Lei Feng is, but Mao as well.
The story of Nain the Monster is a visual delight and offers further insight into the Chinese culture; another favorite is the story entitled My New Year Feast, which enables students to experience the traditions and foods associated with this important holiday. For studio students, these stories could be used as a way for students to study this narrative format – images with text – and examine their own culture, considering what moments in their day might be a uniquely American experience. What events might they, an American teenager, choose to represent? What media would best represent their experience – collage, pencil, paint? As such, this text could be used as a visual prompt for art students to create a single composition or a series of images using Lui’s text as a sample. I highly recommend this text as a way to engage students both in and out of the studio to learn more about Chinese culture from a very unique perspective.

A Child's Perspective on the Cultural Revolution

Field of Interest/Specialty: elematery education
Posted On: 07/26/2015

Little White Duck: A Childhood in China is ideal for the middle years learner. Its graphic novel format will appeal to students, and its use of multiple vignettes allow for it to be incorporated into lessons in part or in whole.
Little White Duck is a biographical, cultural revolution book told from a child's perspective. It is unique from others I have read in that it shares how the author's family, at times, felt the the cultural revolution benefited their well-being. This being said, it is also affords the reader insights into the hardships and other challenges brought about through Mao's policies. This may ultimately be the main point of the book, as the author notes that children were able to see hardships of the time and that this helped them to eventually build their own futures.
This book has been assigned a guided reading level of Z and contains a glossary, timeline, author's biography, translation of Chinese characters, and map. I have used this book in my teaching in conjunction with Gue Yue's Little Leap Forward.
Themes include China, childhood, cultural revolution, Mao Zedong, and family.
Link to NYT review: