252 of 270 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2002
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This charming book has taken a lot of heat in recent years for not being politically correct enough to suit modern sensibilites. The author and artist have been accused of non-PC conduct, the most famous charge being the representation of all Chinese as looking alike through out the book.
I remember reading this book as a young child back in the 60s and being entranced by its clever story of five look-alike brothers with supernatural powers who save their own from an unjust punishment. I've thought of this book many times over my 45 years, remembering it with a fondness and awe unmatched by many other books--children's or no, that I have read. I have only recently revisited this fondly remembered favorite, all too mindful of the criticisms launched against it, paying close attention to the text and art.
The book, originally written in 1938, deserves to be judged not by our modern sensibilities, but for where the world was at the time it was written. Keeping that in mind, the book becomes less the poster child for racism than a respectful retelling of an old Chinese folktale. Careful study of the artwork will reveal that aside from the identical brothers (and their resemblance to each other IS an unassailable plot point from the original folk story)
there is as much effort placed into creating depictions of peripheral characters as there generally is in any children's book. The pen and watercolor wash drawings are simplified as one would expect for the age group that is the target audience, but each person rendered is an individual in facial expression, hair style and dress. Complaining of the sameness of all Chinese depicted becomes mystifying--as aside from similar dress and skin tone used the charge proves to be specious. (And I don't hear anyone complaining the the "Where's Waldo" series was racist and again there, the resemblance of all people depicted is a plot devise to provide the puzzle).
If the criteria of our modern world is not met by a nearly 70 year old book, we are wasting too much time clucking over the artifacts of the past and not doing enough to improve racial unity in the real world. Chances are this charming tale won over many a young heart in is 64 years and possibly even compelled some of those young readers to explore Chinese culture and myth more closely.
110 of 120 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2003
As a child this was one of my favorite tales. I am of asian descent and I was never offended by the images. I didn't find it scary, just fascinating. It was a tale that really let the imagination soar. People should be racially sensitive but not paranoid. In this era of cultural diversity, we should be able to see the humor. The caricatures are innocent not disrespectful. I feel bad for children whose parents feel the need to censor this from them. It is a fun, timeless story I plan to share with my children.
41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 1999
I was in first grade in 1974, it was the first time our class went to the library. The librarian discussed with us some books she had picked out and one was, The five chinese brothers. By the time she had finished describing the book I knew what book I wanted to check out. And when she gave the permission to look around, I ran for that book, and I read it, read it, and am getting to read it again 24 years later. I dont exactly know how, but I feel somehow that book helped me be..who I am, because I never forgot that memory.
64 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2010
I loved this book as a kid. And when I bought a copy for my nephew, I was disappointed to see this book was edited to exclude a few of the brothers' exploits. What a shame that people have become so afraid of our history that they try to censor and warp it into something insipid and "safe". At five, I saw nothing wrong with this book. I thought the brothers' powers were way cool. It taught me the meaning of a family's strength when faced with trying times. That in turn, made me proud of my own family's bond. At 41, my feelings about this book remain unchanged.
The fact that the publishing company felt they had to edit this ancient story is atrocious. It proves their own fears and prejudices. I don't see any racial stereotypes here people. This story is over a hundred years old and finally brought to paper in the 60's I believe. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that's how people dressed back then. By "protecting" our children from any minute sign of what's not deemed politically correct, we've turned ourselves into a nation of cowards... afraid of our own shadows.
Shame on Paperstar for editing this wonderful story.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2005
For 30+ years I've had the images and themes of "The Five Chinese Brothers" in my mind--I haven't seen it or read it in years. I remember reading it in the morning with my mother helping me along--the first book I remember reading. I remember thinking how brave and clever the brothers were. How wonderful that they looked out for each other. How they overcame injustice. How they worked together. How they lived in another culture that was foreign to me. It was my first realization that there were other cultures, other lands. My mother talked to me about how the world is a very big place. A few years later, when I started to meet kids of different colors and races and background I was curious, I wanted to know who people were.
And I remember being taunted by some of the kids in school for being one of a couple of Jews in my class. Not by all the kids--only by kids who heard things at home from their parents and other adults. They didn't get that from stories, they got it from the conversations around the dinner table.
I remember being thrilled by the adventures of the brothers. It can be a dangerous world, and I learned that no matter how dire the circumstances, through ingenuity, love, courage and community we can prevail.
I also remember as a three year old being terrified by a dump truck rumbling down the street. And as an 8 year old by a neighbor with a mental illness. And as a kindergartner falling asleep on the back of the bus and missing my stop.
The world is full of wonderful adventures, stories, treasures, dangers, successes, opportunities to learn and grow and develop. They don't have any inherent meaning or message, not until we add them in. Any of these can lead to hatred or to happiness, to suffering or to wisdom.
So if a story makes you happy, read it. If as a parent there's something wonderful to point out to your kids, point it out. If there's an interpretation that doesn't empower your kids and make them fall in love with all people, don't bother with it.
And maybe, decades from now, your kids will remember the lessons you taught them, snug under the covers on a cold morning, talking about the books that have the brilliance to challenge, inspire and delight.
28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
There is something about the magical that deeply appeals to children. That's why fairy tales are so beloved by them. Even folk tales, a more realistic spin-off of fairy tales, are also favorites of children.
No exception is "The Five Chinese Brothers," written by Claire Hucket Bishop and illustrated by Kurt Wiese. This 1938 publication is still in print, testifying to its popularity. The call of political incorrectness just does not apply here. These five brothers are identical, not because all Chinese people look alike, but because they are quintuplets. Does the story say so? No, but it only figures...
These five brothers--each has a unique gift, each strange, but nevertheless, their gifts are what this story is about. The first brother can swallow the sea, the second has an iron neck, the third can stretch his legs indefinitely, the fourth cannot be burned, and the fifth can hold his breath indefinitely.
So the first takes a child fishing and uses his sea-holding ability so that the child can pick seashells and the like normally hidden under the water. Sad, but the little boy is headstrong and won't return to shore, the brother lets out the sea, and the boy disappears. The brother is going to be executed by axe. He asks to go say goodbye to his mother and switches with his second brother whose neck cannot be hurt.
And so on with each brother who is to be punished by death. Finally, after the fifth try, the judge sets him free. He returns home and lives happily with his brothers and mother.
Children love this book because it strikes their fancy: wild abilities, escape from punishment, astonishment of the town folk, and freedom.
I can see that.
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on November 6, 2000
This is one of my absolute favorite children's stories. I would always make my mother get it from our public library. I know the story by heart, and I haven't heard it or read it in over 10 years!! The story is simple but so entertaining. I remember being amazed at the 'special powers' each brother had. I also thought it was nice how the brother would always ask for permission to say goodbye to his mother and brothers before each new execution attempt. This is a great folk tale that easily captivates the attention and imagination of young children. The illustrations are wonderful as well, and make this book great for story time....
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2006
I want to start by saying this book had to be one of my favourite ever children's books. After my teacher read it to the class, I borrowed it from the library over and over again, because I loved it so much. Many of my friends did the same.
Looking at several of the more negative reviews given , I am a little worried when it comes to some of the parents of today.
As a child, it wasn't even relevant that they were Chinese to me. They where just 5 brothers that looked identical (quintuplets), each with a special magic powers. They were the good guys who beat the bad people that were trying to kill one of them. It was more like a Chinese fairy tale to me, than any reflection of real life.
Concepts of capital punishment at the age of about 6 were no more real to me than, the wicked witch being melted in the Wizard of Oz, or the evil Queen trying to kill Snow White. There were bad people and good people, but just stories. This was just another 'Once upon a time' story.
Given everyone was of the same nationality, I find it hard to see victimisation in any way on the basis of race either.
Perhaps when considering the political correctness of things, we need to consider the views of the people we are trying so hard to protect. Children don't think like adults and many so-called non-PC concepts don't even occur to children. They don't necessarily receive the same message from stories that adults might think, whether it be consciously or subconsciously.
I think, judged in this context, I am quite happy to read this classic and timeless story to my own children, be it written in 1938 or 2006.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2000
One of my fondest memories of childhood was my brother reading to me "The Five Chinese Brothers." I made him read it so many times, he finally made a recording for me! Not just mere entertainment, this book offers many wonderful lessons - especially that we are all special and gifted in our own manner, and of the things we can overcome if we work together. 20-something years later, I still read this book whenever I need to be reminded of that fact. A must read (or be read to) by anyone of any age.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2002
I have no idea how Chinese the tale of THE FIVE CHINESE BROTHERS really is. But it takes the form of a myth or fairy tale. It could be scary, I suppose, but all fairy tales are scary. This is a fun story, and I thought it was unique. Then I discovered the book THE SEVEN CHINESE BROTHERS, which is NOT a sequel but is based on the same story (see review of that one). The differences: this one has a mama, has simple black and orange illustrations, and an older copyright date of 1938. This is a nice fairy tale, but I recommend the other, more modern and colorful, book more highly.