I am in self-isolation for who knows how long with my poodle named Simone de Bebe during this coronavirus crisis. This is my modest contribution to help friends and strangers who are at home juggling their distance education courses or their remote office work while tending to their beautiful children. Sending love your way.
I read these two children’s books to my beloved daughter who loved these stories when she was young so I hope your children might enjoy them too.
My daughter was born in southern China and adopted in 1999 the same year that the first book was published. As I write, this very special and talented 22-year-old university student is across the mountains on the edge of an ocean writing essays and studying. And I dedicate my readings to her.
I am also very conscious of how during this pandemic, anti-Asian racist concepts are promoted by the White Supremacist Trump administration and others. These embolden bullies and harm Asians young and old. The gifts of Chinese stories for children provide opportunities for us all to honour each other.
Chili-Chili-Chin-Chin (Harcourt Brace, 1999) is a book for young children with a refrain that rings with the little donkey’s name: “A free-spirited donkey, tells of his love for the boy who named him after the sound his bells make.” It is beautifully illustrated and written by Belle Yang, a talented artist born in Taiwan who spent her first years in northern Japan before moving with her family to America when she was seven. This book was inspired by a story from her childhood. She writes: “I fell in love with the dainty Manchurian donkey from listening to my father’s childhood stories. I finally met one of these soulful creatures when I went to China in 1985. He seemed most understanding and listened to what I whispered into his ears without once flicking his tail.”
The rapport between the donkey and the boy is celebrated – “He knows my dreams.” As well as the love of his/her spirit. Why did I assume the donkey was male? Nothing in the story dictates that. Perhaps I will read it again with a female Chiili Chili Chin Chin next time.
The second book is The Long-Haired Girl, the retelling of a Chinese legend by Doreen Rappaport with illustrations by Yang Ming-Yi (Dial Books Penguin, 1995). This story is set in the Lei-gong Mountains. People are exhausted in a village that is desperate for water. The drought is withering their plants. Ah-mei climbs the mountains searching for herbs and pulls on a giant turnip that uprooted reveals a trickle of water. The God of Thunder’s secret spring has been discovered and he is angry. You can listen to the rest in parts 1 & 2.
In these two videos, I am reading to my dear seven-year-old friend I will call V. The videos may be technically a bust but the dialogue between the two of us adds to the story. V, clever girl that she is, asks very good questions to keep me on track.