Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mei Li

Mei Li
Thomas Handforth
Doubleday, 1938

Scored for 50 cents at a library sale recently, this Caldecott Medal winner has been fun to read with the Olympics going on. According to the book jacket, the author and etcher went to the Far East in 1931 on a Guggenheim Fellowship and penned this tale based on his experiences. The story follows a young girl on the eve of the Chinese New Year as she ventures out to the streets of Peiping to enjoy all the mysteries the holiday has to offer. The black and white etchings are divine, and the story has a great flow to it, each sentence giving a nod back to the one that preceded it.

In North China, near the Great Wall, is a city shut in by the Wall. Not far from the city in the snow-covered country is a house with a wall around it, too. Inside the house on the morning before New Year's Day, everyone was busy. Mei Li, the little girl with a candle-top pigtail, was scrubbing and sweeping and dusting. Her mother, Mrs. Wang, was baking and frying and chopping. Her brother, San Yu, was fixing and tasting and mixing. A fine feast prepared for the Kitchen God, who would come at midnight to every family in China to tell them what they must do during the coming year.

Packed full of Chinese tradition, it's wonderful to experience another culture from a child's point of view. The girl herself is extremely charming, and wins your heart by how she deals with each adventure as it arises. Pictured here is "the good luck bell under the Bridge of Wealth", and I've been racking my brain trying to figure out how to incorporate this tradition into an American holiday. So fun!


Jen said...

I have three things to say.


2. I highly recommend "The Whim-Wham Book". =) =) =)

3. When I was small (early 80's) I used to get a book from the library: very detailed, 70's style (probably) pencil drawings of a little girls who imagines she shrinks and plays with her now larger-than-life dinner. I remember peas, mashed potato, and using her knife as a slide, swimming in her tea etc... As it has no words, and I can't recall the title/author - I've been looking for this for YEARS. If you have ANY ideas, please let me know!!!

Thanks!!! =)

Burgin Streetman said...

i've never heard of it, but the peeps at are great at figuring stuff out.

thanks for hanging out!

gotta check out the whim wham, thanks for the tip!

Ciro Scardina said...

Great post. I am the author of the blog Ode to Randolph Caldecott. I am sitting here reviewing Mei Li and came across your blog. I absolutely love it! Really well done. This book is so beautifully illustrated! I love the way you could really tell that Handforth used real people as subject matter. I am definitely going to follow your blog.

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