little white duck

Little White Duck: A Childhood in China by Na Liu, illustrated by Andres Vera Martinez

This graphic novel takes a look at the changes in China during the 1970s through the eyes of a young girl.  Da Qin lives in Wahun with her family, including a younger sister.  The book opens with the death of Chairman Mao in 1976 and shows a way of life that was disappearing.  In eight chapters, Liu reveals this transitional and fleeting time in China through experiences in her own childhood.  Along with the main character, readers get to celebrate New Year, capture pests, learn the value of rice, and visit a rural Chinese village.  Throughout, it is a remarkable view into a closed society that is just starting to open itself to the outside.

Liu writes her stories with a wonderful frankness about the playfulness of childhood filled with dreams of riding on cranes, but also tied down to the earth by the everyday nature of the tales.  There is a focus on the small moments of life in China.  Some are amazing to those of us who didn’t live them, like everyone participating in catching the four pests by bringing in a certain number of rat tails. 

Martinez’s art is a study in sepia toned memories made brilliant by the colors of childhood.  Against a gray background, the bright dragon dances at New Year’s.  Orange and yellow flames cook green and brown food.  And even after the drab poverty of the rural village, there are dreams of flying on a crane high in the sky.

Informative and remarkable, this graphic novel takes a fresh and frank look at a childhood in China.  Appropriate for ages 8-10.

Reviewed from library copy.