• Happy Birthday Diane Stanley (Leonardo da Vinci, Bella at Midnight).
  • It’s the birth date of Ingri Parin D’Aulaire (1904–1980) Abraham Lincoln, D’ Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths.
  • In 1831, Charles Darwin embarked on his journey aboard the HMS Beagle, during which he began to formulate the theory of evolution. Read Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure by A.J. Wood and Clint Twist, The True Adventures of Charlie Darwin by Carolyn Meyer and The Tree of Life by Peter Sis.
  • Happy birthday to New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, which opened in 1932.

For our last selection for Read a New Book Month, I’d like to look at one of the most original graphic novels to appear in the last couple of years, Na Liu and Andrés Vera Martínez’s Little White Duck. When books for American children focus on other parts of the world, they tend to be in line with accepted American political thinking. But told as a series of short stories, Little White Duck stands apart from that trend presenting a positive portrait of Maoist China.

Na Liu was born in 1973 near the Yangtze River. She begins Little White Duck by explaining her name and her nickname, Qin or Piano. She continues by relating her memory of visiting the Yellow Crane Tower every spring and her fantasy of flying over the city on the back of a crane. Almost every child has flying dreams, but this version, showing a graceful crane, presents that dream in a different cultural context.

But there are tensions in Qin’s life. Right before a new law was passed allowing only one child per family, Qin’s parents had a second daughter. That means only one of them can go to school. So Qin’s younger sister attends school, while Qin goes to class with her mother, a teacher. But Little White Duck is hardly a dull lesson in politics. Instead readers experience, from Quin’s perspective, the sad day when Mao died. And they hear stories about her daily life, like the four pests that the children help eradicate. A splendid New Year celebration and feast round out Qin’s narrative. During the book Qin presents a positive message about how the Maoist government made her father and mother’s education possible; and she looks with distaste on the old China, where people have not embraced the new Communist thinking. The final story, “Little White Duck,” explores the issues of the haves/have nots in a Communist society. In the end, Qin emerges as a very real child, one worth learning about and appreciating no matter how different her experiences may be.

Both exotic and daring, the book takes readers to another place, time, and culture radically different from our own, and yet one presented with dignity and respect. Because the story appears as a graphic novel, it seems much less a polemic than it would if it were presented as a straight text. The art brings Qin and her family to life, making them something other than a poster family for Communist China. Little White Duck makes a great place to begin learning and thinking about the differences between Chinese and American cultures. If a student needs to read an autobiography for school, it provides one in an alternate format.

Here’s a page from Little White Duck:

Originally posted December 27, 2012. Updated for .

Tags: 20th Century, History, Women, World History
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Little White Duck
One year ago: A Nation's Hope


  1. Linda C. says:

    Anita, Thanks for the review of this unusual book. I have begun reading a few “graphic” books, and this one looks particularly interesting. I really like the art work in the sample.

    Thank you for your site. It is my first stop every morning. I enjoy your comments about new books as well as interesting background on old favorites. My adult daughter and I enjoy your comments. It’s a joy for both of us to (virtually) share memories of old favorites as well as make new discoveries.

    Linda C.

  2. Carol Sibley says:

    This is an outstanding graphic novel with an important story. Thanks Anita for sharing this.

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.