Glimpse of China in the '70s

I suppose most households have rules for eating. In my family, the rule was, "Take what you want, but eat what you take."

Portions left on the plate would harvest adult scowls and an admonishment about the hungry children in China. Imagine my surprise upon learning that children in China also suffered under this admonition. So writes, Na Liu, author of "Little White Duck."

Illustrated by Andres Vera Martinez, "Little White Duck" gives young readers a glimpse into the lives of children in China during the 1970s through a series of autobiographical short stories. For Na Liu's middle class family living in a suburb of Hunan, that world was much different than we, in the west, imagined.

Na Liu explains the tradition of calling children by nicknames. She is called Da Qin (Big Piano), and her younger sister is Xiao Qin (Little Piano).

She tells of visiting the Yellow Crane Tower in spring and dreaming of flying above the city afterward. She has such dreams and joys as any child might have. She and her family are happy.

Na Liu also has a prized jacket, made especially for her, with a beautiful white duck embellishment on its shoulder. It is this jacket and a visit to her father's hometown around which Na Liu builds her gentle autobiography. It is this duck and the visit that bring credence to the admonishment for Na Liu to leave not one grain of rice on her plate.

Na Liu does not flinch from the realities of the blessings and banes of newly communist China. She gives a child's-eye account of life as she experienced it.

"Little White Duck" is a gentle yet honest autobiography that sheds light for its reader on a pivotal time. It is well worth the read for the young and for the not-so-young.

Ruth Siburt is the author of more than a dozen children's books in the educational field.

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