Little White Duck: A Childhood in China

Little White Duck: A Childhood in China

This highly commendable memoir shares 8 stories from the author's childhood in People's Republic of China between 1976 and 1980 in a beautifully drawn graphic novel illustrated by her husband Andres Vera Martinez.

"A Sad, Sad Day" captures a  child's-eye-view of mourning the death of Chairman Mao ye ye(grandfather) , as well as providing a storytelling device for summarizing her parent's lives to that point. In the ensuing stories, China's transformation to a more modern, outward- looking country are glimpsed in episodes from school ("The Four Pests", "March 5 is Lei Feng Day) and home (Don't waste your food, Children are starving in China" and "My New Year Feast") and in the final title story "Little White Duck" which tells of a jarring journey with her father to his rural home.  

"Happy New Year! The Story of Nian the Monster" weaves a bit of traditional Chinese folklore much as  ""My New Year Feast" shows preparations for an important cultural holiday.

Looking at an expansive modern city and a rising sun from her imagined perch on back of a giant crane in the final illustration the author explains, "Looking back on my childhood in China, I realize it was a special time. Children could see the hardships their parents had gone through to survive, to have success in life. And becasue of them, it was easier for us to build our own future."

 A glossary of Mandarin words and names, a brief timeline of Chinese history, a short autobiographical note, a map and notes on the translation of Chinese characters that appear in the book make this a thoroughly engaging, highly recommended addition to elementary libraries and graphic novel collections in general.
 "Xie xie ni" Indeed!  96 pages  Ages 9-13   978-0761381150

Recommended by:  Craig Seasholes, Librarian, Washington USA


This unique book is a gem of eloquent historical perspective. It quietly and beautifully shows glimpses of a child's perspective on some very big world issues. Every child is by nature at the center of their own world. Perspective and compassion are learned slowly, like multi-layered petals of a peony gradually opening to the sun. Of course, none of us like to be made to feel uncomfortable, and so lessons of compassion can often be painful. Remaining tightly closed like a reluctant bud would be so much safer, but ignorance of the world and one's place in it is never sustainable.

The main character in this graphic novel's series of stories, is a young Chinese girl named Da Qin. On a trip to the village where her father was born, she wears a new jacket with a lovely white velvet duck appliquéd to the front. The author and illustrator deftly portray the social awkwardness of her interactions with the children of the village who are vastly different from the girl and her sister. The grubby children are fascinated with the soft white duck, and its pristine velvet surface is soon blackened by the many curious fingers. The internal struggle between revulsion and compassion makes this story very poignant. The young girl begins to realize the contrast between her own life of relative advantage and the poverty and ignorance that she encounters.

Highly recommended for readers from 3rd grade on up. This book would be an excellent addition to a classroom's study of China.

Recommended by: Ruth Gilmore Ingulsrud, Librarian/Author, Japan

"Beloved of Beasts"
Direct Link:
Teacher Blog:

User reviews

Have you read this book? We'd love to hear what you think. Click the button below to write your own review!
Already have an account? or Create an account