First-time kids' book author Shirin Yim Bridges uses a tender family story to travel back to turn-of-the-century China and teach a proto-feminist lesson about perseverance and self-belief.
Idiosyncratic young Ruby lives in a large (and wealthy!) Chinese family, in a gigantic "house filled with the shrieks and laughter of over one hundred children." She stands out because she insists on always wearing red, the color of celebration ("Even when her mother made her wear somber colors like her other cousins, Ruby would tie up her jet-black hair with red ribbons") but even more so because of her quiet dissatisfaction with the family's traditional gender inequity. Determined to study reading and writing--even when it means long hours catching up on more wifely training--Ruby eventually comes to the attention of her grandfather, the wise house patriarch, who springs a surprise as the time for her to wed approaches.
Graceful Aussie illustrator Sophie Blackall captures the culture--contrasted by Ruby's bright red defiance--expertly, with elegant calligraphy, muted period clothing, and countless nice details (from a porcelain bowl full of terrapins to ink smudges on Ruby's cousins' faces). And what's better, Bridges's well-structured story is true--with a fun surprise ending! (Ages 4 to 8) --Paul Hughes
From Publishers Weekly
Bridges, in her first book (based on her grandmother's story), handles the conflict between Chinese tradition and young Ruby's longing to attend university with grace and compassion. She sets the scene with a description of "a block of houses, five houses wide and seven houses deep, [once] the magnificent home of one family." Ruby lives in this home with her grandfather (who "did what rich men did in old China: he married many wives"). A tutor teaches any of the 100 assorted grandchildren who wish to learn, but Ruby is the only girl who continues to study while also keeping pace with learning her many household duties. Bridges characterizes the heroine as confident and spunky. For instance, she "insist[s] on wearing red every day"; opposite, Blackall (A Giraffe for France) gives a nod to Chinese silkscreening with four poetic images of her, one per season, wearing various red outfits. One day, her teacher shows Ruby's grandfather a poem she has written in calligraphy: "Alas, bad luck to be born a girl; worse luck to be/ born into this house where only boys are cared for." Grandfather questions her about the poem, and she confides her wish to go to university. Years later, at a New Year's Day celebration, he proves that he was listening. Blackall conveys their special relationship in subtle ways: Grandfather's presence on the balcony, observing Ruby at her studies, a gentle stroke of her head when Ruby is called to Grandfather's office. This understated tale takes Ruby's predicament seriously while still celebrating her love of learning and her joyful personality. Ages 4-8.
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