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Review of My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder

My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder
by Nie Jun; illus. by the author; trans. from the Chinese by Edward Gauvin
Primary, Intermediate    Graphic Universe/Lerner    128 pp.
9/18    978-1-5124-4590-9    $30.65
Paper ed.  978-1-5415-2642-6    $9.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5124-9859-2    $30.65

In the first of four stories in this graphic novel for young readers, Yu’er, who walks with difficulty, has a big dream: to compete in the Special Olympics as a swimmer. Alas, her application to take a swim class is rejected because of her disability. Fear not: Grampa sets up a contraption composed of belts, hooks, and pulleys, dangling Yu’er from the tree in the communal courtyard of their Beijing home, and teaches her himself. Panels depicting Yu’er’s fantasy of swimming gracefully through clear blue water alternate with those revealing the tough reality of her midair training sessions. The story ends with Yu’er’s dreamscape seeping into the real world as she swims high in the air through the neighborhood for all to admire. Strong beginnings, heartwarming relationships, moments of levity, and magical elements also mark the remaining three vignettes, giving these inventive stories a folkloric quality. The soft earth-toned and fine-lined watercolor panel art seems quiet and contemplative at first glance. However, accompanying this subdued palette are dynamic perspectives and compositions that give each story a lively energy. The book’s original Chinese title, which can be translated as Fairy Tales of Old Streets, hints at the author’s longing for a vanishing lifestyle (communal living in Hutongs, or narrow alleyways, is a rare experience in modern Beijing). But contemporary young readers will easily relate to Yu’er’s longing to be part of a loving community and caring family, and identify with her good humor and grit in facing life’s obstacles.

From the September/October 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Roxanne Hsu Feldman

Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School Librarian at The Dalton School in New York City. She is fully bilingual in Mandarin and English.

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