Slowly, we continue working our way through the Caldecott Award winners. Mei Li is the 1939 winner; a labour of love that was written and illustrated by Thomas Handforth. It is the tale of a young girl in 1930s China who wants to go the New Year Fair in the city but isn't allowed to because she's a girl. Fortunately, she is curious, adventurous, and importantly, decides to ignore the prevailing idea that girls don't have the same privileges as boys. She sneaks out to follow her brother to the Fair.
At the Fair, the story hopscotches around a fractured plotline - she runs into acrobats, wise old men, beggars, a priest, and various animals. Her brother teases her mercilessly throughout, but she doggedly pursues adventure with spirit and bravery, finally returning to her kitchen where she finds out...I am firmly against plot spoilers, so read it and find out!
The illustrations are black-and-white; sometimes silly and sometimes kind-of realistic. Given the book was written in the 1930s, it is easy to assume it would be filled with offensive stereotypes about China, but it seems to have a tone of cultural respect and love for the characters rather than a pervading sense of stock caricature and dialogue.
Magdelana and I have had some lively conversations and question-and-answer dialogues about China, about history, and about how important it is that girls do not just accept the expectations that a culture may place upon them - children are meant to find and create adventure and excitement. Boys and Girls both.
And adults too.
Doubleday Books for Young Readers
written and illustrated by Thomas Handforth