Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Bronze and Sunflower

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is in its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Their mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators. 
I am honored to participate again in this wonderful event as a book reviewer for "Bronze and Sunflower" by Cao Wenxuan. Thanks to Raquel Stecher from Candlewick Press for sending me this lovely book to review. http://www.candlewick.com/
"Bronze and Sunflower" is a well written, timeless tale by Cao Wenxuan, best-selling Chinese author and 2016 recipient of the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award. Wenxuan is a Chinese novelist who is best known for writing children's literature. He is the vice president of Beijing Writers Association, professor and doctoral tutor at the Peking University.
"Bronze and Sunflower" has a folk-like quality that illustrates a poor but honest family as they suffer to send their adopted daughter to school in rural China. The book is made up of a series of short stories about Sunflower and her family over the space of roughly three years. 
It focuses on simple everyday events and challenges. Although not without times of grief and real hardship Bronze and Sunflower’s lives are full of happiness, gratitude and kindness making this story resound with hope. It is also a reminder that warmth and generosity can make for powerful storytelling no matter what the language.

The story takes place during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960’s and 70’s rural China although this event is only relevant at the beginning of the story when Sunflower's father, a city artist is "sent down" to the farms. The Chinese Cultural Revolution is not a familiar period in history so this is an ideal introduction to a historical event for discussion with young readers.

The government during this time sent many people to what they called "Cadre Schools" in the country side (which were labor camps). There was no regard to the fact that these people were educated, and were originally working in universities, schools and even as government officials. Many had never been to the countryside before, and found living there extremely hard. Like Sunflower’s father, they spent all day doing physical labor and then had to attend political meetings in the evening. It was exhausting and children often were left alone in the evenings. Her father who had once been a successful artist with his bronze sunflower statues being the talk of their old city, dies and Sunflower is adopted by a village family across the river. Despite the fact that Sunflower’s newly adopted family has very little, they did have their pride making sure they provided for their children as best as they could. Schooling was important and many families made sacrifices so their children could get an education. I loved how Sunflower's family demonstrated team work to overcome the every day challenges of life.

Sunflower and her new stepbrother Bronze, who is mute, become inseparable friends, passing time mostly in the fields and rice paddies, trying to help their family. Bronze is devoted to Sunflower and is always on the lookout for her safety. Throughout the story readers get images of school, rural life, and unfortunate disasters. Readers meet several characters in the book, including their matriarch grandmother and the family's buffalo, which is a character unto itself. The buffalo represents strength and nurturing.  Along the way there are many lovely descriptions about natural history, farming practices, and village life.

The book flows easily and was written for middle grade readers 9-12. As a former classroom teacher this book would make a great read aloud for third and fourth graders. The main characters were well developed, had their ups and downs and were relatable even though they are from a different culture and time period. Sunflower was sweet and innocent in the way only small children can be. And there is much to be admired how dedicated Bronze was to each family member particularly to Sunflower and his work ethic.  
Helen Wang was the translator for "Bronze and Sunflower". She is the Curator of East Asian Money at the British Museum, and author of non-fiction books such as Money on the Silk Road: The Evidence from Eastern Central Asia to c. AD 800 to Chairman Mao Badges: Symbols and Slogans of the Cultural Revolution. She’s also a translator of Chinese literature and a contributor to the Paper Republic website,.

It seems like it would be a monumental task translating the story Bronze and Sunflower from Chinese to English but under Wang’s deft hands it appears to be a smooth transition. Keeping in mind the language and the culture of Chinese and English when translating for storytelling is so important.It certainly is a skill to be admired. The translator needs to be precise in tension, suspense, length, rhythm, humor and dialogue maintaining the crucial elements of a story originally intended by the author.

One of my favorite quotes from the story from the grandmother illustrates how giving and caring the characters were deciding about adopting Sunflower. "We might be poor,” said Nainai, “but we’re not so poor that we can’t feed that little girl. If we all ate a little less, we could manage it. I’ve always wanted a granddaughter!”

I highly recommend reading this book which gives insight into a different culture and a story line that presents many teachable moments appropriate for discussions.
Enrichment Activities:
Our Diverse World Book Lists for Kids (this is a general book list) But it’s also broken out by country/geographic area: I found the following resources on China superb.
Buffaloes https://kidskonnect.com/animals/buffalo/
Art and Art History
van Gogh-http://www.vangoghgallery.com/painting/sunflowerindex.html

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that.
Current Sponsors: MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include Scholastic, Barefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. Roman, Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTV, Capstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle Swift, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee& Low Books, The Pack-n-Go Girls, Live Oak Media, Author Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

Author Sponsors include: Karen Leggett Abouraya, Veronica Appleton, Susan Bernardo, Kathleen Burkinshaw, Maria Dismondy, D.G. Driver, Geoff Griffin, Savannah Hendricks, Stephen Hodges, Carmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid Imani, Gwen Jackson, Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana Llanos, Natasha Moulton-Levy, Teddy O'Malley, Stacy McAnulty, Cerece Murphy, Miranda Paul, Annette Pimentel, Greg Ransom, Sandra Richards, Elsa Takaoka, Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

MCBD Links to remember:
MCBD site: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/
Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta
Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teachers-classroom-kindness-kit/
Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents: http://bit.ly/1sZ5s8i


  1. Thanks for all you do to promote literacy. I am amazed by the number of books you read.

  2. Thank you so much for your support of Multicultural Children's Book Day and for helping us get the word out!

  3. My father is from China and he had a few professor friends who went through a similar experience during the Cultural Revolution. His friend, who is an acoustics professor, was missing a few fingers but didn't talk about it. It was a sad and terrible time.

  4. What an awesome book! I've been reading adult fiction about China and that particular period, but I didn't know of anything like that for children! I'll definitely check it out!