Friday, March 15, 2013

Red Kite, Blue Kite by Ji-Ji Jiang, illustrated by Greg Ruth

Historical fiction is one of my very favorite genres, especially when it is based on real events or people.  Lately, I have been reading a lot of historical fiction picture books and I have been loving them.  Not only do they introduce young children to important events or people in history, they add so much to older kids' understanding to what they may be learning/reviewing in school.  Picture, especially in the hands of a skillful illustrator, can provide a detailed visualization, in the same way a map helps us find our way.

Red Kite, Blue Kite is a picture book that begins just before takes the Cultural Revolution in China that occurred during the 1960s.  Tai Shan and his Baba (father) like to fly their kites from the rooftop of their home.  Tai Shan's kite is red, his father's is blue.  Kite flying is a special time for Tai Shan, because on the roof they feel free and Baba tells lots of stories.

"Then, a bad time comes."  Tai Shan's school is closed and he is sent to live with a farmer when his father is sent to a labor camp.  Granny Wang is good to Tai Shan, but he still dreams of being back home with his Baba and their kites.  But, at least, Baba can visit every Sunday, walking the long distance so they can be together and fly their kites.

One Sunday, Baba tells Tai Shan he will not be able to visit for a while.  He tells Tai Shan to fly his red kite every morning and Baba will answer this by flying his blue kite in the evening.  It will be their secret signal.

But one day, Baba tells Tai Shan he will not be able to fly his blue kite anymore.  He gives it to Tai Shan and tells him to fly both of them for him to see.  The men with the red armsbands are taking Baba to a difference labor camp because of his ideas.  Will Tai Shan ever see him Baba again?

Red Kite, Blue Kite is a book that can be read on two distinctly different levels.  First and foremost, it is a beautifully written story about the strong relationship and bond that exist between a father and his son, a bond so strong nothing can break it, not even separation.  It would be an excellent book for any child that has suffered and had to cope with separation from a parent for any reason.

The political aspects of the story are never really spelled out, since this is a story are told from Tai Shan's point of view, understood as a child would understand political events going on around them.  For example, the treatment of dissidents like Baba is not really spelled out, but it is there if it is wanted as a history/cultural lesson.

Complementing the text are Greg Ruth's realistically detailed watercolor illustrations.  Here, too, the political aspects of the story have been kept in the background by giving them a rather shadowy effect, while the more colorful elements of the illustrations, placed at the forefront, focus on Tai Shan and/or Baba:

I have to agree with what Pamela Paul wrote in her February 20, 2013 NY Times review of Red Kite, Blue Kite: [It] offers narratively strong, visually arresting and moving examples of why and how picture books can convey with immediacy and resonance the impact of profound historical events."  I couldn't have said this any better, and completely agree with it.

Just imagine the lesson plans you could come up with using historical fiction picture books.

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was provided by the publisher


  1. Sounds like a real winner.. Do you really think it appropriate for a child as young as five?

  2. Great review! A lot of sad things happened in China during the Cultural Revolution. The kites are also such a great symbol of freedom for the child and father.

  3. The artwork on the cover is very appealing and would certainly grab attention.

  4. I am intrigued from your excellent book review! Sounds like a riveting book. I love New Orleans and a plot with a brothel makes me want to pick it up to read about the underbelly of the Big Easy.


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