Any Chinese American will tell you they’ve attended Saturday School as a kid, at the insistence of their overeager parents. They can relate with the need to perfect each stroke to create the radical, then each character, over and over again. There’s a nod to us within the pages of this book, though anthropomorphic. This meticulous practice requires a great deal of patience. “Calligraphy is a type of picture writing, demanding more than skill. It calls for artistry.” Based on actual historical artists and accounts, one story is chosen as a sample of Chinese lore for children. Xian’s father is the famous calligrapher of China. Xian, just like his six older brothers, all want to be like him. 

Multi award-winning author, Ji-li Jiang, does it again with her authentic portrayal of a father-son relationship (Red Kite, Blue Kite), and the lessons learned within. We know that with equal skill, she is also able to spin father-daughter tales (Lotus and Feather). Pictographs line the books inner jacket so that you can see the representational written language evolved from symbol to its modern form. Clean strokes of calligraphy show the scope of planning that went into its creation from the eighteen vats to the “Two Wang’s Calligraphy Exhibition.” An author’s note and illustrator’s note are chock full of information on the art of Chinese calligraphy. Eighteen is a lucky number in Chinese culture because phonetically it sounds like fortune. 

Nadia Hsieh blends earth tones of a mountain (shan) to the center of the sun. A green forest is dotted with green (lin) characters, shorthand for forest. Hsieh not only paints sun, mountain, water landscapes, though, she seamlessly combines them into the same luxuriant view and spirit along with the fishing boats and Xian. Her artistry is free-flowing and follow’s the boy’s development from curious observer, inspiring student to master calligrapher. Creatively, Hsieh renders Xian’s style from all the iterations for the character “swan,” a flair that capture the past as well as the present. It does not, at all, feel, anachronistic. Hsieh’s talent is unique and remarkable.  

An accessible, historical account of an ancient writing and art form for children. Recommended for ages (K and up). 

 Ann Crewdson is a children’s Librarian 

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