Little White Duck: A Childhood in China
Little White Duck
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Na Liu and Andrés Vera Martínez , illus. by Andrés Vera Martínez
ISBN 9780761381150
Graphic Universe/Lerner, 2012.
4 ½ stars
Keywords: 1970s china family little-white-a-childhood-china mao na-liu-and-vera

Little White Duck: A Childhood in China
by Na Liu and Andrés Vera Martínez , illus. by Andrés Vera Martínez

This extraordinary memoir offers readers a close-up picture of life in 1970s China.

Called "Da Qin" ("Big Piano"), Na Liu was born near Wuhan, China, in 1973. The book opens as four-year-old Da Qin wakes up next to her younger sister. Thinking she'll be late for school, she grabs a cup, and heads outside to a spigot to brush her teeth. But there is no school today. It is September 6, 1976, and Chairman Mao has died. Unlike many books written by Chinese-born Americans about life under Mao, Na Liu's demonstrates the benefits of the regime to her family, especially to her mother who, paralyzed by polio as a girl, was able to walk again. Andrés Vera Martínez (Babe Ruth), Na Liu's husband, co-author and the artist of the book, uses the graphic novel format to perfection, zeroing in on young Da Qin's face when she sees her parents' sorrow, and conveying the chairman's importance through wide-angle views of Mao's likeness on street murals and banners.

In the last and most moving chapter, "Little White Duck," Da Qin insists on wearing her coat with a velvet white duck to her Baba's rural village. By the close of the book, Da Qin has learned firsthand of the disparities that her mother and father told her about, and gained compassion because of it. Liu and Martínez find the universal moments in the details of an exotic land, inviting readers to see themselves in Da Qin's experiences of friendship, family and country.

This review first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.
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