Little White Duck is eight short stories about the author and her sister’s childhood in China between the years 1976 and 1980. The stories reveal a much different China that why many American children would think of today and a much different China than what the author’s parents grew up in. The book is not about Chinese history, but is a snapshot of what it was like for two young girls to grow up in China during a transitional period. In an author note at the back, Liu calls her generation a transitional won as hers was the generation that grew up without the leadership of Mao Zedong. With his death, China became more open to other countries and the world. The graphic novel is fully colored with bold artwork that feels reminiscent of traditional Chinese scrolls with a sprinkling of propaganda style posters as some of Chinese history is revealed.
Liu’s life in the most densely populated city in central China is not much different than children’s lives in large cities. This is a theme that continues throughout the novel. While some things may seem strange and foreign—and a few are—her experiences in school and with her family transcend countries and nationalities. However, there are many elements that will be new to American readers, like needing to bring in rat tails as part of a school assignment. Liu goes outside to brush her teeth using water from a spout and only one of the children, her younger sister was allowed to officially attend school. Their mother was an elementary school teacher and Liu was able to go to work with her and obtain an education.
Though the book is set during just a few years, there is a lot of Chinese history through the stories her parents told her their childhood. Both of her parents received assistance from the government and their stories will be familiar to American readers as they closely resemble the “American Dream.” Her father was from a poor farming family, but walked miles to school and studied hard to be at the top of his class, which led him to getting a government scholarship to further his education. Her mother contracted polio as child and suffered from a paralyzed leg, but with free medical attention from the government, she was able to walk and run again.
The graphic novel serves as a good introduction for any child interested in Chinese culture or history. The legend of the Nian monster and the Chinese New Year is introduced, which is an excellent starting point for a child’s research. The book also raises many questions. If this is how China was the, what is China like today? How has it changed? How is it the same? How are we like them? Are these character’s lives different from me own? How?
The author also provides a glossary of Mandarin Chinese words and other names along with a brief timeline of Chinese history, a short biography, a map of China and her specific city, and a translation of the Chinese symbols used throughout the novel. The novel is sure to entrain those interested in Chinese culture, but it is also easily adaptable to be teaching tool or part of a lesson on Chinese history, culture, or an introduction to the language.
Liu, Na, and Andrés Vera Martínez. Little White Duck: A Childhood in China. Minneapolis: Graphic Universe, 2012. Print.
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