The Missouri Reader Vol. 42, Issue 1 - Page 55

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Multiculturalism with Picture Book Portrayals

of Traditional Chinese Literature

by Rebecca Giles , Paige Vituli, and Susan Martin

are the same as him, each shares a common feature (i.e., scales like the fish, claws like the eagle, emerald eyes like the hare, etc.). Guided by clues in the form of Chinese characters and assisted by Old Turtle and Crane, both signs of longevity in Chinese culture, he finally discovers his true identity and receives the name Jin Jin. The story clearly communicates to any child seeking his own identity that while similar to others in various ways, he is not the same as any but rather a unique individual. The place of dragons in Chinese culture is explained in an author's note, and there is additional information about the book’s Chinese characters. Chinese reviewers were particularly captivated by the incorporation of the traditional Chinese view of dragons as a combination of nine animals into a meaningful, well-written story for young children.

Jin Jin Rain Wizard

In Chang’s second book, Jin Jin, again assisted by Old Turtle and Crane, introduce children to the Rain Wizard. Believed by ancient Chinese to be a temperamental god responsible for bringing rain, the Rain Wizard reminds both Jin Jin and those reading this book that it is wise not to waste your food and “it’s never too late to correct a mistake.” After the story, two additional pages describe the history of rice and the legend of Rain Wizard. Chinese reviewers found the story and illustrations in this book to be an authentic reflection of Chinese culture and reminiscent of a well-known Chinese poem teaching children to cherish every grain of rice.

The Seven Chinese Brothers

This story evolved from a classic tall-tale that occurs when China is under the rule of Emperor Ch’in Shih Huang (259-210 B.C.) when the Great Wall of China was begun and loosely follows the plot line of The Five Chinese Brothers (1938) written by Claire Huchet Bishop and illustrated by Kurt Wiese. Mahy’s version, however, incorporates more humor and action creating a group of characters who each possess a unique supernatural ability (i.e., excellent hearing, advanced vision, super strength, iron bones, etc.) and work together against evil, much like modern superheroes. Except for the executioners resembling Japanese Sumo wrestlers, Tsengs' dramatic watercolors accurately recreate the historical setting and provide authentic depictions of both the dress and architecture. While the brothers in this book are more authentic than those drawn by Wiese, the seven brothers are still visibly indistinguishable despite their unique physical attributes, thus, providing an opportunity to discuss the stereotypical idea that all members of a group look the same. The book ends happily with the brothers outwitting the Emperor to avoid execution, but the story contains a range of frightening possibilities (i.e., threat of drowning, being burned alive, and decapitation, etc.) that very young or sensitive listeners may find troubling. Despite some minor flaws, it was described by one Chinese researcher as “A great story about the Great Wall.”

Lon Po Po

In this variation of the Red Riding Hood story, Mother visits Grandmother, leaving her three children in danger from a marauding wolf. The clever girls’ independence and self-reliance is soon revealed when they use the wolf’s own greed to bring about his demise rather than seeking the help of a nearby woodcutter. While some American children may question why the sisters were left alone, Chinese researchers remarked that leaving children without a babysitter is a more acceptable practice in China. It was further noted that “This is a story most children in China know very well.”

Grandfather Tang’s Story

Grandfather tells Little Soo a story about shape-changing fox fairies whose pride puts them in danger when a hunter arrives. Luckily, the two friends are able to defeat the hunter by working together. This story within a story uses a clever combination of watercolor illustrations and framed silhouettes to introduce the ancient Chinese puzzles known as tangrams. Widely used in many American classrooms for integrated mathematics activities, Chinese researched pointed out that the story’s main characters bear resemblance to the Monkey King, a mythical Chinese creature that can change forms freely.

Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China

This fascinating Cinderella tale from the Tang Dynasty greatly predates the 1634 Italian version and shares the same stereotypical evil stepmother prominent in both American and Chinese cultures. Rather than a Fairy Godmother, Yeh-Shen’s wishes are granted by a carp, a Chinese symbol of good fortune. Yeh-Shen helps readers recognize that despite cultural differences, many young children share the same problems and dreams, thus, opening the door of a discussion of human values that transcend culture.

Zen Stories

In Muth's trilogy of books --Zen Shorts (2005), Zen Ties (2008), and Zen Ghosts (2010), a giant haiku-speaking panda named Stillwater shares aspects of the Zen lifestyle thoroughly steeped in the history and culture of both Japan and China. Each book uses vibrant watercolors and elegant ink drawings to imaginatively present a series of stories revealing universal morals like wisdom, kindness, and forgiveness. Using a combination of both Japanese and Chinese features as well as integrating the American custom of trick-or-treat, Muth is able to clearly communicate such philosophical concepts as love and enlightenment in an enjoyable and easily-understood manner. He portrays the ancient origins of these lofty ideas with a personal understanding of cultural dynamics that prevents his presentation from being either audacious or disrespectful. The cultural connection of the stories’ in Zen Shorts was noted by one Chinese reviewer who pointed out “Japanese Buddhism came from China by Monk Jianzhen in the Tang Dynasty.” While the Chinese raters noted the significant role of Zen in Chinese culture and enjoyed the stories, they cautioned against labeling them as purely Chinese literature since a blend of cultures is represented

Discussion

Integrating multicultural literature in the classroom is one method for creating learning communities that acknowledge and celebrate diversity (Colby & Lyon, 2004)..

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