Sunday, October 27, 2013

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

Tai Shan and his father, Baba, don't fly their kites on the ground. Instead, they go to the roof of their house, "above but still under, neither here nor there." To them, the kites represent freedom and their unbreakable bond as father and son, the red kite being "small and nimble," the blue kite "big and strong."

But then a dark time descends on Chinese history, something called the Cultural Revolution. This is a time when, in order to assure that citizens do not "stray from the Communist path," people are tortured, beaten, and put into prison camps for even the possibility that they might have differing views.

Baba is one of those people who is put into a labor camp, but before he leaves makes a pact with Tai Shan: every day at sunrise, he will fly his red kite so Baba can see it from camp, and in return, every day at sunset, Baba will fly his blue kite so Tai Shan can see it from Granny Wang's farm.

But one day, Baba stops flying his blue kite at sunset and Tai Shan is afraid for him. Where is Baba? Will Tai Shan ever see the blue kite or his Baba again?

Red Kite, Blue Kite is based on a true story: that of the author's family friend who is the little boy of Tai Shan. It is truly a testament to the beauty and resilience of the human spirit, especially when you realize that this really did happen. Greg Ruth's illustrations further add to the emotion of the story, picking up human expression and feeling where words fail. This could be the first step of a reading ladder toward books like Red Scarf Girl also by Ji-Li Liang and Revolution is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine. The author's note at the end of the book gives just enough information to fill in some knowledge gaps for young readers, but is also vague enough that will compel students to read further about this era in world history, which is when a teacher can swoop in and show them books like Red Scarf Girl.

In addition, Red Kite, Blue Kite could also be a mentor text to discuss symbolism with students since the red kite and blue kite clearly represent the relationship between the father and son. 

Overall, this is a beautiful story that can speak to a variety of age groups.

Red Kite, Blue Kite by Ji-Li Jiang, illustrated by Greg Ruth
Published: January 29, 2013
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Pages: 32
Genre: Picture Book
Audience: Primary/Middle Grade/Young Adult
Disclosure: Library Copy

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