Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze

When Young Fu arrives with his mother in bustling 1920s Chungking, all he has seen of the world is the rural farming village where he has grown up. He knows nothing of city life. But the city, with its wonders and dangers, fascinates the 13-year-old boy, and he sets out to make the best of what it has to offer him. First published in 1932, Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze was one of the earliest Newbery Medal winners. Although China has changed since that time, Young Fu’s experiences are universal: making friends, making mistakes, and making one’s way in the world. (
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Square Fish; Reprint edition
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Average: 5 (1 vote)


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Young Fu: The Story of a Young Apprentice

Field of Interest/Specialty: Art & Social Studies
Posted On: 03/26/2017

If you have read "A Single Shard" by Linda Sue Park, you MUST read "Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze" by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis. Set in the early 20th century, this 1932 Newbery Award winner is the beautiful story of a 13 year old who, upon the death of his father, is forced to move from his ancestral farm to the city of Chungking in order to apprentice with a well-known coppersmith. The excitement of the people, shops, entertainment, and possibilities of the ancient city intrigues Young Fu, but his apprehensive mother is not so easily convinced that the move will bring them any fortune. While Young Fu establishes new friendships with several of the people he meets, including a neighbor-scholar and a Western nurse, he also works his way up the ladder from apprentice to journeyman welder and designer under Master Tang.
Following the changes in the life of the Fu family, one can draw similarities to the challenges facing Chinese society at the turn of the century as they struggle with modernization. The reader can also draw a number of parallels between this story and the one written by Park; there are a number of parallel characters such as Young Fu and Tree Ear, the Scholar and Crane-man, and others who foil one another like Master Tang and Master Min.
I read the 1970s edition of "Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze" which includes a glossary of terms and interesting notes on “modern” life in China. The original edition also includes notes on China, so one activity I foresee is having my students start with a comparative analysis of the China in 1932, 1970s, and today. Additionally, I could facilitate some very insightful discussions by dividing the class in two and having one group (lower reading level) read Park’s story and the other half (higher reading level) read Lewis’ tale: How do Korea and China compare? How does 12th century Korea compare to early 20th century China? What are the benefits of an apprenticeship? What value do the arts have in these societies?
Once I picked up this story, I found it rather hard to put the book down. I actually enjoyed it more than "A Single Shard" because there was more going on in the story--more characters, more development, more twists. I feel that it is definitely worth the read for any middle school or high school class, providing many strong literary qualities for analysis while giving a very insightful look into life in early 20th century China.