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Little White Duck: A Childhood in China (Single Titles) Paperback – August 1, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Graphic memoirs are a cornerstone of the graphic-novel format, but rarely are they written with children as the primary audience. In eight short stories, Liu has done just that, giving younger readers a glimpse into her life growing up in China just after the death of Chairman Mao. By linking her stories to a teaching by Confucius that says one learns in three ways—by studying history, by imitating others, and through one’s own experience—Liu shows how her parents survived the famine during China’s Great Leap Forward, how the death of soldier Lei Feng influenced the behavior of Liu and her sister, and how a trip to the countryside to visit her relations helped Liu realize just how privileged her life in the city was. The stories are vivid even without Martinéz’s bold artwork that evokes both traditional Chinese scrolls and midcentury propaganda posters. The result is a memoir that reads like a fable, a good story with a moral that resonates. Grades 4-7. --Eva Volin --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.

About the Author

Na Liu is a doctor of hematology and oncology. She moved from Wuhan, China, to Austin, Texas, in 1998 to work as a research scientist for MD Anderson Cancer Center. She met her husband, Andrés Vera Martínez, in Austin.

Andrés Vera Martínez was born in Lamesa, Texas, and was raised in Austin. He has created comics and illustrations for Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, CBS/Showtime, and the New York Times. His work has received awards and recognition from the Society of Illustrators, 3x3 Magazine, and American Illustration.

Na Liu and Andrés Vera Martínez live in Brooklyn, New York, with their daughter, Mei Lan. They take annual trips to visit their families in Wuhan and Austin.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Graphic Universe (August 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0761381155
  • ISBN-13: 978-0761381150
  • Product Dimensions: 0.2 x 7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #311,122 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 3, 2012
Format: Paperback
It's funny to think about, but the fact of the matter is that we're still in the early days of the graphic novel memoir for children. Adult graphic novel memoirs are capable of winning top literary awards, like the Pulitzer or the National Book Award. On the kid side of things the options are far more limited. The top literary prize for kids, the Newbery, has never been handed to a comic work, nor does the American Library Association have a prize for comics of any sort. All this comes to mind when I pick up a book like "Little White Duck". Couched in the memories of its author, this groundbreaking work is perhaps the finest marriage of world history and comic art for kids I've seen in a very long time. A must read for young and old alike.

Told in eight short stories, the book follows Da Qin the middle class daughter of two parents, living in the late 1970s/early 80s. Through her eyes we see a number of small stories about growing up in a post-Mao China. There's the tale of how she and her younger sister attempted to emulate their nation's heroes by helping some thirsty chicks (to an unfortunate end, I'm afraid), or the one about having to bring in rat tails to prove she was great at pest control. There's the story of how Mao's death affected the nation, and useful facts about China during this era. Most impressive is the titular story about Da Qin and what happened to the white velvet duck on her jacket when she and her father visited the village where he was born. Honest, sometimes funny, and unusually touching, this glimpse into another life in another world rings distinctly true.

This book has been a reason for serious debate amongst the librarians of my system. Some wondered about the seemingly unconnected stories and whether or not they gelled properly.
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Format: Library Binding
Na's eyes widened as she pored over a book about Chinese mythology. The book was upside down, but no matter, she loved to "read" and the characters came alive for her and swirled though her mind. Na was four-years-old and lived in Wuhan, China next to the great Yangtze river. There was a bit of unexpected discord in the house and her parents started to quarrel. Her father wanted them to go visit his mother, Na's nai nai. "We don't owe her anything!" her mother argued, "She insisted we have another child. When it turned out to be another girl, she refused to help us." Na would be going with baba alone to visit her.

It wasn't something that Na wanted to do, but it was just going to be a day trip so she relented. Jia jia, her mother's mother, had bought her a beautifully soft green coat with a "little velvet duck" sewn onto the front. Mama didn't want her to take it to the village, but because it was her favorite she insisted and began to pout. "Aaall right! All right. Go ahead and take it." Baba and Na began their train journey through the mountains to Longquan. Baba's brothers welcomed him, but nai nai was frightening and mean. She went outside to see her cousins, but found they were very different. What was wrong with them and why were they interested in the little white duck?

This is an enchanting series of tales about Na Liu's childhood in post-Maoist China. The tales are vignettes of Na, or Da Qin's life, an ordinary life as she saw it. The pages, however, are filled with a history that is a bridge from a totalitarian-ruled country to the ever-evolving one we know today. In the short tales we get a glimpse at Chinese history that had been once hidden from the rest of the world, a history that was a part of her family.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Tea on January 23, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I originally bought this for my daughter (12), whom I adopted from China. However, after reading it, I think it's better for an adult with a curiosity about China (i.e., me). Those times seem to have been rather drab and difficult and it shows in the story's tone; it's not the kind of book to give a kid pride in her heritage. It helps to have some knowledge of China's history in that era, as well as the perspective of adulthood that makes a person cherish the child's memories and view of life. (The five stars is for a adult reading it, not a child.)

I've been a fan of comics for many years (since I grew up in Japan), and this is one of those books where the comic format is right on because of the book's desire to make you see and feel another time. I'm a big fan of historical fiction, and although this isn't fiction, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip to a different place, time, mindset, and stage of life. Lovely.
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Format: Paperback
Based on the author's childhood in rural China, Little White Duck shares several tales of life during the time of Chairman Mao's passing.

Little White Duck is filled with a lot of powerful moments, both touching and unsettling. It captures a child's sense of wonder and obliviousness, as well as the harshness of the realities of life creeping in. The snippets are interesting and evocative, wonderfully capturing a very different place and time. There is also great care taken to explain relevant customs and traditions, both in the comic and with the glossary and timeline in the back. What's here is very good.

But it's not quite enough. Deliberate pacing and the fact that there are eight largely unrelated tales makes this feel much shorter than its 100+ pages. In some ways it feel like things were just beginning when the book ended. I also wish there was more to each piece in the way of context. The back cover's description is more along the lines of what I wanted: "When their country's leader, Chairman Mao, dies, new opportunities begin to emerge. Da Qin and Xiao Qin soon learn that their childhood will be much different than the upbringing their parents experienced."

The implication seems to be a connection between those two quoted sentences, but it never really materializes. We see Da Qin experiencing the news of Mao's death, some pieces of her typical life as a child, and her seeing how different her father's hometown was, but none of it is connected here. The differences between her childhood and her parents' seem to be more class related and generational than tied to a new social order. In fact it's practically described in some sections as being a result of her parents' choices and hard work DURING Mao's time, not in the aftermath of his death.
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