Su Dongpo: Chinese Genius by Demi. Copy supplied by Lee and Low. Picture Book.
The Plot: A biography of Su Dongpo (born Su Shi), 1036 to 1101. Had I heard of Su Dongpo before this? Nope. Now I know that he is "the heart and soul of Chinese culture." A superman, almost; a child prodigy and scholar; a government official who got things done; a man who made enemies, saw reversals of fortune, and learned to appreciate all aspects of life.
The Good: Beautiful illustrations. You can take a peek at the book, at the publisher Lee and Low's site. To use my niece Cheetah as the test case, as soon as she saw it she wanted to look at it and read it. The illustrations are breathtaking; rich gold borders, brilliant blues, deep reds. I especially liked the two page spread that showed Su Dongpo and his father and brother traveling on the Yangtze River.
The illustrations also help show the world that Su Dongpo lived in; for example, the scene of the candidates taking exams, each in his own cubicle, as palace guards look on.
Sometimes Su Dongpo was on the top of the world; other times, in exile. In exile, he learned that "he could find beauty anywhere." He lost the taste for fame, but when a new Emperor called him to service, he went. He observes that:
happiness and sadness
are moments that pass like a shadow,
a sound, a breeze and a dream --
Both are earthly illusions
How can one find happiness
Countering one illusion with another?
Another good thing: a map. I like to see where things are, to get the sense of how far a person travels, what is really meant by exile.
Notes: at the beginning of the book there is a notation about books looked at, and notes on transliterations of certain words and names.
Links: Big A little a review.
Paper Tigers review.
Edited to add the Boston Globe review.